Debra Vitagliano is devout Catholic who, consistent with her Catholic faith, opposes abortion and sees it as the deliberate termination of an innocent human life. Debra has participated in prayer vigils at the Planned Parenthood in White Plains, New York, where she engaged in peaceful prayer and held signs about the impacts of abortion on both expecting mothers and fathers. Debra has also been trained to volunteer as a counselor to abortion-vulnerable women and seeks to engage in sidewalk counseling outside the clinic. She views this ministry as a final attempt to turn pregnant women away from abortion and to save the lives of unborn children.
Westchester County, where Debra lives, passed a law restricting discussions about abortion, its alternatives, and resources available to abortion-vulnerable women on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics. The law establishes a 100-foot zone around abortion clinics—including public sidewalks—and prevents anyone from approaching within eight feet of another person in that zone unless given explicit consent.
Debra is motivated by her faith to help vulnerable women approaching abortion clinics, but the Westchester law bars her and all others who seek to offer this help by threats of fine or imprisonment. This ban on sidewalk counseling deprives abortion-vulnerable women of a final opportunity to receive help and learn about additional resources before potentially making a life-altering choice.
Debra challenged the Westchester County law, but a district court dismissed the case. Debra has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to restore her ability to offer compassionate support to abortion-vulnerable women outside abortion clinics by reconsidering its heavily criticized decision in Hill v. Colorado, which allowed states and local governments to ban peaceful life-affirming advocacy on public sidewalks.
Westchester County’s law is modeled after and materially identical to the Colorado law that the Supreme Court upheld in Hill. Legal scholars and judges have long criticized Hill, and last year five Justices of the Supreme Court stated that Hill was a major departure from our nation’s protections of free speech. The Center, on behalf of CLS, filed an amicus brief urging the Court to take Debra’s case. The brief argues that the Second Circuit erred in upholding Westchester County’s law under the First Amendment and also urges the Court to limit or overrule Hill