Anti-Abortion Group Sues to Lift California Vax Site Buffer (1)

Oct. 13, 2021, 7:29 PMUpdated: Oct. 14, 2021, 12:41 PM

An anti-abortion group sued California in federal court Wednesday to invalidate a new law prohibiting protesters from coming within 30 feet of patients entering vaccination sites and within 100 feet of a site’s entrance or exit.

The law, known as SB 742, will prevent Right to Life of Central California’s sidewalk counselors from approaching women on public rights of way outside a Fresno, Calif., abortion clinic to speak “kindly and peacefully” about their resources and support services, the complaint says.

The case is a pre-enforcement challenge that asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California to block SB 742, which went into effect immediately upon being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Oct. 8.

SB 742 is intended to “ensure public peace and safety during the process of distributing vaccinations during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and public health crisis,” according to the law’s text.

But it broadly defines a “vaccination site” as any place “where vaccination services are provided,” including retail space and pop-up locations. Its application isn’t limited to sites offering vaccines against the coronavirus, the complaint says.

This broad definition encompasses the abortion clinic operated by Planned Parenthood Mar Monte because the clinic provides vaccinations against the human papillomavirus, though not Covid-19, the complaint says.

The clinic is located next door to Right to Life’s outreach center, and the two have adjacent parking lots, it says. The law thus “severely” restricts the anti-abortion group’s speech on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building—and even in its own parking lot, the complaint says.

Additionally, SB 742’s 30 and 100 foot buffer zones don’t comply with current U.S. Supreme Court precedent, as the nation’s top court has struck down buffer zones that are too big to allow for normal conversation, the complaint says.

Causes of Action: First Amendment’s free speech, free association, and free exercise clauses, and 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses.

Relief: Temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctions blocking the law’s enforcement facially against any speaker and as-applied to Right to Life; declaration that SB 742 violates U.S. constitutional rights both facially and as-applied; costs and attorneys’ fees.

Response: The California Attorney General’s Office “will review the complaint and respond as appropriate in court,” a press officer said in response to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

Attorneys: Alliance Defending Freedom represents Right to Life.

The case is Right to Life of Cent. Calif. v. Bonta, E.D. Cal., No. 21-cv-963, complaint filed 10/13/21.

(Adds attorney general's office's comment in second-to-last paragraph of story first published 10/13.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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