On April 30, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will vote on a “Clinic Access Bill”. This kind of legislation is a persistent feature of pro-abortion advocacy. It is designed to chill the free speech and assembly rights of pro-lifers who pray and witness outside of abortion clinics. Since the pro-abortion forces can’t bear the possibility that women might choose against abortion, they aim to silence us by passing vague laws that are designed to intimidate pro-lifers into silence out of fear of arbitrary prosecution and punitive lawsuits.
The Archdiocese issued a strong statement against this bill last fall. Many pro-lifers and lovers of freedom will attend the Board hearing on Monday, to urge the legislators not to give in to the well-funded pressure from the abortion industry. I will attend too, and deliver the following remarks. Please pray for us.
My name is Edward Mechmann. I am the Assistant Director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York, and a resident of Westchester County. I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.
First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary. There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill. According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.
The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest. This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together. This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.
This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion. It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited. One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”. Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech and assembly rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.
Another provision of the bill would create a protected zone that includes “any public parking lot” within 200 feet of the clinic, as long as it “serves” the clinic. These terms are undefined and hopelessly ambiguous. For example, what does it mean for a parking lot to “serve” a clinic, and how can that be determined? There is no test clearly defined in the statute. The result will inevitably be arbitrary and selective enforcement, and the chilling of free speech and assembly rights.
This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing the rights of those who oppose abortion, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion businesses. This discriminatory legislation dishonors the constitutional rights of pro-life citizens, and robs women of an opportunity to hear the truth about abortion.
It should be rejected.