Pro-life Advocate Criminally Charged for Speaking to Woman Outside Abortion Facility

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court Friday on behalf of pro-life advocates opposed to a Colorado law that has been used to prohibit speech on public sidewalks outside abortion facilities. On June 26, the high court unanimously upheld the right of Americans to engage in free speech on public sidewalks in front of abortion businesses in the case of McCullen v. Coakley.

“Coloradans should be free to speak peacefully with whomever they please on public sidewalks without fear of criminal prosecution,” said ADF Senior Counsel Michael J. Norton. “That includes peaceful pro-life advocates who just want to offer information and help to mothers who would like it. The Supreme Court recently affirmed this freedom, an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding.”

The vaguely worded Colorado law makes it a crime to “knowingly obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block another person’s entry to or exit from a health care facility.” In April 2010, Jo Ann Scott was criminally charged for violating the law even though she simply spoke to a woman for 26 seconds on a Denver public street that was more than 100 feet from the entrance of an abortion facility.

ADF filed the brief in Scott v. People of the State of Colorado on behalf of 40 Days for Life, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, Abby Johnson, and Leila Jeanne Hill, the plaintiff in a prior Supreme Court anti-speech zone case, Hill v. Colorado.

As the ADF brief explains, “The Colorado statute violates the U.S. Constitution” and “fails to define essential terms and provides no notice as to what conduct or speech is prohibited. The statute also permits unfettered discretion and selective prosecution and punishment.”

The brief further explains that “McCullen clarifies that there is no right to be protected from ‘uncomfortable’ speech on public streets and sidewalks. The Court, in acknowledging that streets and sidewalks occupy a ‘special position in terms of First Amendment protection because of their historic role as sites for discussion and debate,’ noted that… when an individual is on a public street or sidewalk, a ‘listener often encounters speech he might otherwise tune out.’”

“The vagueness of Colorado’s law led to censorship that cannot survive constitutional scrutiny,” added ADF Litigation Counsel Natalie Decker. “There is no sound legal basis for creating zones on public sidewalks where peaceful, constitutionally protected speech is banned.”

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