Pro-Life Law Firm Brings Federal Lawsuit Against California Prohibition Of Protests Outside Vaccine Providers

The Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF) is a nonprofit pro-life organization that has brought a case in a federal court in California to challenge a new law in the state just signed into effect by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. 

On October 8, Newsom signed Senate Bill 742, which restricts protesting or providing written materials outside any facility offering vaccinations. The new law includes abortion clinics within the scope of its prohibitions.

The new lawsuit includes a motion filed on Monday seeking a restraining order against the state to stop enforcement of the new law. The statute states that no one may “knowingly approach” another person at a vaccination facility with the intent of obstructing, injuring, harassing, intimidating, or interfering with that person.

The law says that “vaccination sites” include hospitals, physician’s offices, clinics, or retail stores available for vaccinations.

The LLDF lawsuit alleges that the state has “enacted a breathtaking restriction on speech” that violates previous Supreme Court rulings prohibiting “buffer zones” around abortion providers. Planned Parenthood falls within the new law’s restrictions, as it provides some vaccines at its facilities.

The “buffer zone” created by the new law is 100 feet from the entrance or exit of a vaccination site, and no one may come within 30 feet of defined persons in that zone. In a 2014 Supreme Court case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that restrictions on speech within a 35-foot buffer zone around an abortion facility must be “content-neutral.”

The new California law provides for fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months imprisonment. The law goes beyond prohibiting violence to include passing printed material, displaying signs, “engaging in oral protest,” or “education” with another person in a public space or sidewalk.

The LLDF complaint alleges that the state has not shown a “compelling government interest” in restricting speech regarding vaccinations. It has not been demonstrated that the law is the “least restrictive” method to protect such an interest if it did exist. Both requirements are traditionally part of the legal analysis of state laws restricting speech otherwise covered by the First Amendment.

The lawsuit, therefore, claims that the new law is “unconstitutionally overinclusive and overbroad.” Katie Short with the LLDF said in a statement that the group is “confident” the federal court will strike down the new law.

The motion for a temporary restraining order has been set for hearing on October 27 before Magistrate Judge Nathanael M. Cousins of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Judge Cousins is a 2011 appointee of President Obama.