The California legislature has hardly seen a free speech restriction it doesn’t like, especially when it benefits abortionists. Its latest attempt to squelch pro-life speech is Senate Bill 742 (SB742). Ostensibly aimed at prohibiting harassment of people attempting to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations, it actually works to keep pro-life sidewalk counselors from engaging with pregnant women in front of abortion clinics.

That’s because the bill makes it unlawful to approach a person or an occupied vehicle at a “vaccination site” for the purpose of harassment, intimidation or interfering with that person. And Planned Parenthood and other abortionists typically provide STD vaccines such as Gardasil, bringing them under the protection of the law.

But the law is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, two new lawsuits allege.

The first lawsuit involves Right to Life of Central California, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys. The pro-life group, whose office is located next door to a Planned Parenthood facility, charges that the law’s restrictions prevent its representatives from peaceably offering charitable services to women in need on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building and parking lot.

“Women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve to have full support and resources available to them when they choose life for their unborn children; yet the state of California is working hard to silence the voices of those advocating on their behalf,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in a press release.

“This new speech ban unlawfully discriminates against the peaceful advocacy of Right to Life, yet other types of speech, such as ‘lawful picketing arising out of a labor dispute,’ are permissible. We are asking the court to strike down this unconstitutional law that violates staff and volunteers’ free speech rights and allow Right to Life to continue its critical role of serving vulnerable women and children in central California.”

The second lawsuit was filed by Life Legal Defense Foundation on behalf of several individual sidewalk counselors who speak with women entering abortion facilities.

“While parts of the law restrict activity that is already illegal anywhere such as obstructing movement and threatening people,” the federal court complaint reads, “the heart of the law is a restriction on approaching within 30 feet of another person for the purpose of engaging in various forms of traditional sidewalk free speech.”

“Creating no-approach zones around every abortion facility, drug store, stand-alone health clinic, and supermarket in the state is unconstitutionally over-inclusive and overbroad,” said Life Legal Chief Officer Katie Short in a press statement. “In an age of unprecedented incursions on freedom, this law is an unheard-of restriction on core First Amendment activities, and we are confident that the federal court will strike down SB 742.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in several so-called buffer zone cases involving free speech, and in a 2000 case approved an 8-foot limit, according to Life Legal’s court filing. That’s a far cry from the 30-foot requirement of SB742.

California Family Council (CFC), an ally of Focus on the Family, has been sounding the alarm about SB742. CFC President Jonathan Keller calls it a “Trojan Horse.”

“Vaccination can be controversial, so every person should be free to make the best choice for them and their family,” Keller said in a website post. “But SB 742 is a Trojan Horse attack on the First Amendment rights of all Californians. Groups like Planned Parenthood will use this law to silence peaceful pro-life speech and assembly.”

Both lawsuits seek temporary restraining orders and injunctions blocking the law from being enforced against their clients, and ultimately a declaration that the law is unconstitutional.

The cases are Right to Life of Central California v. Bonta and Aubin v. Bonta.

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