Federal court criminalizes handing out pro-life leaflets at abortion centers

The Thomas More Society is petitioning for a rehearing of this decision which, if not overturned, will ‘criminalize a wide swath of protected speech and expression.’Wed May 5, 2021 – 2:42 pm EST

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Planned Parenthood abortion facilityShutterstock

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

NEW YORK, May 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — A court ruling in March criminalized the distribution of pro-life leaflets at abortion centers and restricted interactions between pro-life activists and patients or “escorts,” calling them a “physical obstruction.”

WND reported that a panel of New York judges has restricted pro-life advocacy in front of abortion clinics under the federal FACE act. Originally, the FACE act merely prohibited blocking abortion facility doorways. On March 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled to expand the act to include any “physical obstruction.”

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According to the Thomas More Society, a law firm that handles pro-life cases, including pro-life activist David Daleiden’s case, this new expansion of the act forbids “approaching patients and attempting to hand them a leaflet” on the grounds that this might cause them to “deviate slightly from their path” and therefore be delayed by “one second.”

Furthermore, it is forbidden to inadvertently cause a patient to have to walk around a life-advocate as a result of the sidewalk leading to the entryway being cramped. Additionally, the act of “delivering a leaflet to the driver of a vehicle who has voluntarily stopped the car and rolled down the window to communicate with the life-advocate” is considered criminal.

Finally, a conversation with a patient or an ‘escort’ is considered “harassment” and a “use of force” if the patient even implicitly shows they do not “welcome the message.”

In response, the Thomas More Society started a petition to overturn the ruling. The decision “represents the broadest restriction of First Amendment expression ever imposed under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act,” the petition states, “and threatens vast amounts of core First Amendment activity.”

“If allowed to stand,” the petition continues, “the panel opinion will criminalize a wide swath of protected speech and expression, including holding signs on public sidewalks, attempting to distribute leaflets, and engaging in consensual conversations with vehicle passengers.”

This recent ruling is a continuation of the attacks against pro-life groups in New York. In 2017, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman labeled peaceful pro-life advocacy as “harassment” and filed a lawsuit against Pastor Griepp and nine members of his congregation.

Schneiderman petitioned the government to restrict their advocacy under the FACE act. However, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton explained, “The FACE Act specifically exempts constitutionally protected advocacy from its prohibitions.” Therefore, Schneiderman’s request was denied.

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