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Anti-Abortion Advocates To City: Don't Keep Us Away From Abortion Clinics

By Mina Bloom | August 23, 2016 3:26pm
 Anti-abortion activists held a Tuesday news conference.
Anti-abortion activists held a Tuesday news conference.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

NEAR NORTH SIDE — Anti-abortion advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Chicago's 2009 "bubble zone" ordinance, which prohibits the abortion opponents from speaking to patients or protesting near abortion clinics.

In the lawsuit, members of the Pro-Life Action League, the Live Pro-Life Group and four "sidewalk counselors" argue the ordinance violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"Regardless of how one might feel of abortion itself, we should all agree that a law that restricts the rights of one viewpoint on the public way of the city is unconstitutional and should not be allowed to continue," Stephen Crampton of the Thomas More Society told reporters outside of the Near North Side's Planned Parenthood, 1200 N. LaSalle St.

Stephen Crampton of the Thomas More Society addresses reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.[DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

The lawsuit was filed against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the City of Chicago, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue the Chicago police department "has repeatedly employed the ordinance to prevent plaintiffs and others from effectively communicating their message."

According to Crampton, the ordinance is "vague and confusing" and officers "can't agree on how it's enforced." He said one day officers will threaten to arrest anti-abortion activists and the next they'll let them stay.

A couple dozen anti-abortion advocates joined Crampton at the news conference, including Veronica Price, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who has been volunteering for Pro-Life Action League as a "sidewalk counselor" since before the ordinance took effect in 2009.

As a "sidewalk counselor," Price said she "tries to give hope and health to people considering abortion so they can find another option." She recalled a time when she was able to convince a 19-year-old girl to keep her baby outside of the now-shuttered Planned Parenthood clinic at Elston and Cicero avenues.

"Now her little son is wonderful, he's entering kindergarten this year," Price said. "Her and her boyfriend are getting married. She took the help. She had the freedom to hear us, and we had the freedom to give it. Now if she said, 'No, don't talk to me, leave me alone,' I wouldn't have pursued it."

"The 'bubble zone' law is preventing us from being able to freely talk to people outside the clinic and for them to hear ways they can keep their baby and save their baby's life."

The City Council passed the "bubble zone" ordinance in 2009, which prohibits abortion advocates from getting within 8-feet of patients who are within 50-feet of abortion clinics. It was proposed by then-43rd ward Ald. Vi Daley to protect women from being harassed or intimidated outside of clinics.

Daley modeled the ordinance after a law in Colorado — one that was challenged but ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A similar law in Massachusetts, however, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2014, which has worried Illinois abortion rights advocates that the ordinance might not last.

Julie Lynn, spokeswoman for Illinois Planned Parenthood, and four other clinic escorts were the only abortion rights advocates at the news conference. But Lynn said that was by design. 

"It's a health care facility. There's no reason to have a protest or counter-protest," she said. "People are here to get health care. If people were standing out here with pro-choice signs, that still might be frightening to patients."

Despite that, Lynn said she and other clinic escorts are going to "continue to be out here to make sure patients feel safe and can access the health care they need."

"The protesters still have their freedom of speech rights available to them," Lynn said. "8-feet is a very sufficient amount of space to still get their message across."

At the tail end of the news conference, Alicia, who declined to provide her last name, was leaving the clinic. She said she's been visiting the Near North Side clinic for the last five years to get check-ups. 

Allowing anti-abortion advocates to counsel patients closer to the clinic would be "upsetting" for patients, according to Alicia. 

"It's about privacy," she said. "If somebody's all in your face, trying to bombard you. I think there should be a certain distance, they shouldn't be right in front of the door."

Alicia has a few friends who have gotten abortions at the clinic, who she said wouldn't have benefited from the counseling.

"I think they probably would've felt upset in a different kind of way. But I don't think it would've changed their mind," she said.

Read the full lawsuit here.

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