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AUL brief asks U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether ‘bubble zones’ violate the First Amendment

Today, Americans United for Life filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of 40 Days for Life and Sidewalk Advocates for Life in Price v. City of Chicago, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and determine whether speech-free “bubble zones” outside abortion clinics violate the First Amendment. 

“Bubble zone” laws restrict speech around abortion clinics by prohibiting individuals from approaching women within a certain radius outside the clinic if the individual seeks to pass out leaflets or handbills, display a sign, or engage in oral education, counseling, or protest. Bubble zone laws target the speech of pro-life sidewalk counselors and sidewalk counseling organizations, such as 40 Days for Life and Sidewalk Advocates for Life—two non-profit Christian organizations that seek to end abortion through peaceful, public witness, which includes sidewalk counseling, vigils, education, dialogue with community members, public prayer, fasting, and offers of support to women facing unplanned pregnancies. 

Chicago’s bubble zone ordinance at issue in Pricewas upheld by the Seventh Circuit because it was materially similar to a Colorado bubble zone law that the Supreme Court upheld in 2000 in Hill v. Colorado. In Hill, the Court recognized a significant governmental interest in protecting listeners from unwelcome speech and that such an interest is content neutral. This interest and rationale has since been disavowed by many justices, judges, academics, and even the Supreme Court’s subsequent decisions as inconsistent with the First Amendment. But because Hill has never been explicitly overruled, the Seventh Circuit below was bound to uphold Chicago’s ordinance. 

AUL’s brief explains the peaceful, prayerful, and lawful work of sidewalk counselors and sidewalk counseling organizations, and how Chicago’s ordinance targets their pro-life speech. Bubble zone laws deprive women of the opportunity to hear and act upon information offered by sidewalk counselors and sidewalk counseling organizations—information that is welcomed by many listeners as evidenced by the number of women who visit pregnancy resource centers and/or choose life for their child once they learn of the support systems available to them. 

Many other women–including AUL’s President, Catherine Glenn Foster—are devastated to learn too late of the resources and support that would have been available to them and would have chosen life had there been a sidewalk counselor outside the clinic to care for them and educate them on all their options. Chicago’s bubble zone ordinance deprives women of this vital information and harms countless women and girls who will never have the chance to make a truly informed choice. 

“Bubble zone laws, such as Chicago’s ordinance, not only impinge upon the free speech rights of sidewalk counselors (and others) to approach and converse with people on public ways, but they also deprive women of the opportunity to hear and act upon information offered by sidewalk counselors and sidewalk counseling organizations—information welcomed by many women,” said Rachel Morrison, AUL Litigation Counsel. “Without intervention by the Supreme Court, sidewalk counselors and sidewalk counseling organizations will continue to be targeted for their pro-life speech and have their free speech rights suppressed without recourse.” 

The justices will determine whether or not to hear the case once they return from the summer recess in October.