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Victory in California: Court rules in favor of pro-life group’s free speech rights

Court grants Right to Life of Central California request to halt enforcement of unconstitutional state law

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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