A Catholic sidewalk counselor plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling upholding a New York county law prohibiting pro-life protesters from approaching people outside abortion clinics, the law firm representing her said June 22.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan found the previous day that the Westchester County, New York, law was valid due to a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a similar law in Colorado. The court said it would abide by that ruling unless the Supreme Court were to overturn its own precedent.
The appeals court said the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York "correctly recognized that Hill dictates the conclusion that Westchester County’s bubble zone law withstands First Amendment scrutiny." It referred to Hill v. Colorado, which also involved state legislation enacted in 1993 that regulated First Amendment activity within 100 feet of an entrance to any health care facility and prohibited approaching within eight feet of a person, without their consent, to provide any materials or counseling.
However, the appeals court stated Debra Vitagliano, the sidewalk counselor who challenged Westchester County's law, has standing for review by the high court, should she choose to do so.
Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, said June 22 that Vitagliano will ask the high court to review that ruling.
"Americans like Debra have every right to engage in peaceful, face-to-face conversations with women in need on public sidewalks," Mark Rienzi, president and CEO of Becket, said in a statement. "Nobody should have to risk jail time and go to court for a peaceful conversation on public sidewalks -- even when local government disagrees with them. We are hopeful that the Court will take this case and protect Debra’s ability to serve women in need."
According to Becket, Vitagliano is a devout Catholic and occupational therapist for children with special needs, who feels called to share alternatives with women considering abortions. However, Westchester County law establishes a 100-foot zone around abortion clinics, which is inclusive of public sidewalks, and prohibits anyone from getting within eight feet of another person in that radius without explicit consent.
"My faith calls me to offer help to pregnant women considering abortion. In her most vulnerable state, a woman considering an abortion needs to know that she is loved and that there are other options for her and her child," Vitagliano, who resides in the county, said in a statement. "I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear my plea and allow me to help these women."
The June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right. But it remains to be seen if the court will take up a challenge to its 2000 ruling in Hill v. Colorado.
In that case, the high court upheld the Colorado law in a 6-3 decision, finding it did not restrict speech itself, but only where it could occur, and was applied to all protestors equally.