California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation into law Friday that creates a 30-foot buffer zone between protesters and vaccination sites. The measure known as SB 742, also includes abortion clinics since Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, recently decided to give vaccinations in addition to their usual work of furnishing abortion procedures.
The idea behind the law is to keep those wanting to get an inoculation from being intimidated or harassed while trying to get one. Violators could face a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, The Los Angeles Times reported.
But according to the California Family Council, the new law's definition of harassment is so broad that it restricts protected free speech like sign-holding, sidewalk counseling, and literature distribution that pro-life advocates do outside abortion clinics.
The only exemption is for those protesting in a labor dispute.
"Vaccination can be controversial, so every person should be free to make the best choice for them and their family," said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. "But SB 742 is a Trojan Horse attack on the First Amendment rights of all Californians. Groups like Planned Parenthood will use this law to silence peaceful pro-life speech and assembly."
Many legal experts don't believe the new law with such a broad definition of harassment can survive constitutional scrutiny.
"The proposed law is blatantly unconstitutional," said Alliance Defending Freedom's Senior Counsel Denise Harle. "The First Amendment right to free speech is guaranteed to all Americans in all places. The Constitution can't be nullified by so-called buffer zones."
"The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in McCullen v. Coakley that a similar buffer zone placed too great a burden on First Amendment rights," Harle noted. "We oppose this egregious speech restriction and we are disappointed that Gov. Newsom failed to stand up for the rights of Californians and veto the bill."
The bill's author, state sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), is a medical doctor and an advocate for vaccination mandates. He argued a 30-foot buffer zone was needed to protect those entering vaccination sites from protesters who might infect them with the virus.
But one of his fellow Democrats in the California Assembly, a former NASA scientist, questioned that risk.
"There is absolutely no evidence I know of, and I've been looking, that you can transmit over 30 feet outside, "Assemblyman Bill Quirk said. "Frankly it is almost impossible to do that indoors. …I really don't think that that measure, and probably some of the others you have in the bill would survive a court challenge."
The new law goes into effect immediately, just in time to directly affect the 40 Days for Life campaigns going on throughout October outside abortion centers in 60 California cities.
Life Legal Defense Foundation Legal Director Catherine Short plans to challenge the law and will be seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the enforcement of SB 742 when the federal courts open Tuesday. She will be suing on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors in San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.
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