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Right to Life of Central California v. Bonta

Description:  Right to Life of Central California is challenging a state law that unconstitutionally restricts speech based on viewpoint by creating 100-foot censorship zones outside of any facility that provides any type of vaccine. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 742 into law, immediately banning certain free-speech activities when a speaker is within 30 feet of another person and that other person is “in a public way or on a sidewalk area” and “within 100 feet of the entrance or exit of a vaccination site and is seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site.” This law restricts Right to Life’s ability to peaceably offer charitable services to women in need on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building—and even its own parking lot—because Right to Life is located next to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic that administers the HPV vaccine.


Right to Life of Central California sidewalk counselors
Monday, Nov 1, 2021

FRESNO – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled Saturday in Right to Life of Central California v. Bonta that a state law wrongfully restricted Right to Life of Central California’s free speech rights. The court determined that SB 742, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in October, likely unlawfully discriminates against Right to Life’s peaceful outreach to women, and thus granted the pro-life group’s request for a temporary restraining order to halt enforcement of discriminatory parts of the law against any speaker while the lawsuit moves forward.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Right to Life of Central California argued before the federal district court Thursday after filing a lawsuit that challenged the state of California’s attempt to unconstitutionally restrict speech based on viewpoint and content by creating 100-foot censorship zones outside of any facility that provides any type of vaccine. State law SB 742 bans certain free-speech activities when a speaker is within 30 feet of another person and that other person is “in a public way or on a sidewalk area” and “within 100 feet of the entrance or exit of a vaccination site and is seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site.” This law restricts Right to Life’s ability to peaceably offer charitable services to women in need on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building—and even its own parking lot—because Right to Life is located next to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic that administers the HPV vaccine.

“Free speech won the day not just for our client, Right to Life, but for every other speaker in California. We applaud the court’s decision to protect the First Amendment rights of every Californian, regardless of their viewpoint, and halt enforcement of this unconstitutional state law,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “The court rightly acknowledged SB 742’s double standard in restricting pro-life outreach while permitting other types of speech, such as picketing about a labor dispute. We are thankful Right to Life’s staff and volunteers can continue their critical mission of serving vulnerable women in the central California region with their free, life-giving services.”

“The court concludes that [Right to Life of Central California] is likely to show that SB 742 is not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interest of ensuring access to vaccination sites. Thus, [Right to Life] has shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its First Amendment freedom of speech claim,” the court order stated. “In addition, the court is persuaded by [Right to Life’s] argument that the irreparable harm caused to it by SB 742 is particularly acute because ‘SB 742 came into effect in the middle of Right to Life’s participation in the biannual 40 Days for Life campaign,’… and [Right to Life] ‘will never get back the opportunity to reach each woman who enters Planned Parenthood Fulton during this time without hearing Right to Life’s message.’”

“[Right to Life of Central California] has shown that it will likely succeed in establishing that SB 742 is a content-based restriction on speech and is thus subject to strict scrutiny,” the order further stated, and that the defendant’s arguments “demonstrate that SB 742 is so vague that it is conducive to different and conflicting interpretations on what conduct is even prohibited by its terms.”

Right to Life’s primary means of outreach to women considering abortion is through its Outreach Center, which is located next to Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s main Fresno abortion clinic. Right to Life shares free resources, provides support services, and offers informational leaflets while standing on the public sidewalks in front of its Outreach Center and between the Outreach Center and Planned Parenthood’s property. The Outreach Center’s parking lot is adjacent to Planned Parenthood’s parking lot, and the two organizations share a sidewalk. Right to Life’s staff and volunteers speak kindly and peacefully with others at a normal conversational distance to share their charitable support services.

  • Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR’-lee)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Denise Harle

Denise Harle serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Life. In this role, Harle focuses her litigation efforts on defending pro-life legislation around the nation. She also works to defend the First Amendment freedoms of pro-life health care professionals and pregnancy resource centers. Since joining ADF, Harle took the primary role in drafting the briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra, resulting in a free speech victory for California pro-life pregnancy centers. Prior to joining ADF, Harle served as deputy solicitor general in the Office of the Florida Attorney General, where she drafted appellate briefs and presented oral arguments on behalf of the state in a wide variety of constitutional cases, including defending the constitutionality of pro-life laws. In 2017, she participated in the prestigious Supreme Court Fellow program, sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General. She clerked for Justice Ricky L. Polston on the Florida Supreme Court and worked for several years as an appellate litigator at a large firm in California. Harle earned bachelor’s degrees, summa cum laude, in psychology and interdisciplinary social science from Florida State University, a master’s degree in political science from Stanford University, and a Juris Doctor from Duke University School of Law. At Duke, she served as the executive editor of Law & Contemporary Problems, the law school’s oldest journal. A member of the state bars of California, Florida, and Georgia, she is admitted to multiple federal district and appellate courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.