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Westchester News

Pro-Life Group Sues to Block County’s New Abortion Clinic Protection Law

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December 8, 2022

By Barrett Seaman—

A group called “40 Days for Life” has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop Westchester County from enforcing recently passed legislation designed to prevent pro-life protesters from harassing women seeking abortions within prescribed distances from abortion clinics.

The Reproductive Health Care Facilities Access Act, passed last summer by a 15-2 vote in the county legislature and signed into law by the County Executive, bans efforts to restrict anyone from entering or exiting a reproductive healthcare facility, following or harassing a person within 25 feet of a facility or damaging or interfering with the operation of a facility.

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The group 40 Days for Life, on behalf of a local vigil group, claims that the law is “designed to intimidate pro-lifers and scare them off the sidewalks in front of abortion facilities,” concluding, “We cannot allow it to achieve that goal.”

The suit calls for a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law until the court rules whether or not to make the injunction permanent. It alleges that the law’s “floating bubble zone” provision “is a classic content-based restriction on speech,” said Christopher A. Ferrara, a special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which is assisting with the case.

“Only speech that involves ‘protest, education or counseling’—meaning only pro-life speech, obviously—is forbidden within the floating bubble under threat of arrest, prosecution, fines and up to six months in jail,” said Ferrara. “You can talk about the weather or anything else inside the floating bubble, but if you breathe a word about the pro-life message, you are a criminal.”

At the time of the bill‘s passage last June, Democratic Legislator Jewell Williams Johnson said, “Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, a person, a woman, or staff person has the right to walk freely to and from a health care facility,” Her Republican colleague, James Nolan, one of the two who voted against the bill, argued that the legislation was wrong “not because of medical reasons but cancelling someone’s freedom of speech.”

When asked for a reaction to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for County Executive George Latimer said: “We believe the law is constitutional. The law allows for protestors to exercise their first amendment right, while also protecting the rights of women who seek reproductive healthcare without harassment or obstruction.”

The last clinic offering abortion services in the rivertowns, the Women’s Medical Pavilion on Ashford Avenue in Dobbs Ferry, closed in 2002. At present, there are five clinics offering abortion services in the county as a whole.

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