Carbondale, Illinois, Faces Federal Lawsuit Over 100-Foot Abortion Bubble Zone Ordinance

May 16, 2023
Tom Ciesielka

Thomas More Society Attorneys Represent Coalition Life to Uphold Civil Rights and Free Speech

Thomas More Society attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Carbondale, Illinois, on May 16, 2023, to overturn the restrictive anti-free speech “bubble zone” surrounding the city’s abortion facilities. Representing Coalition Life, a pro-life advocacy organization, the Thomas More Society’s complaint charges the city with violations of freedom of speech and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, along with additional violations of the Illinois Constitution.

“This is an unconstitutional and overzealous attempt to show favor to abortion vendors, at the expense of the free speech rights of folks in Carbondale and neighboring communities,” explained Peter Breen, Executive Vice President and Head of Litigation for the Thomas More Society. “Across the country, legislators captured by the abortion industry are attacking pro-life citizens who are trying to offer alternatives and help to pregnant women in need and their children. Pregnant women a deserve a real choice, to hear about their options from caring individuals who aren’t trying to sell them abortions.”

Breen noted that the City of Carbondale had cited no evidence of illegal activity in that city in support of the new ordinance.

Volunteers with Coalition Life regularly gather outside of the abortion businesses in Carbondale, to share life affirming alternatives with their patrons. They pray, offer literature, and provide a civil, peaceful witness to the sanctity of human life in an ongoing effort dedicated to ending abortion peacefully and prayerfully, as they offer resources to support women, children, and families.

The lawsuit details that the offending ordinance creates a large “no-speech” buffer zone around “any entrance door” to a “hospital, medical clinic or healthcare facility” in the city. These buffer zones extend in a 100-foot radius in all directions from “any entrance door” to these facilities, creating no-speech zones in the public right-of-way near numerous healthcare facilities throughout Carbondale. Within these zones, the ordinance creates a “bubble” around any person inside the zone, prohibiting anyone from knowingly approaching within an eight feet bubble of anyone in the public right of way “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling.”

Despite only targeting pro-life activity at the city’s abortion businesses, the Carbondale ordinance extends to all healthcare facilities in the city. Carbondale boasts some 153 “hospitals, medical clinics, or healthcare facilities,” all of which now have 100-foot radius no-speech zones outside them, because of the bubble zone ordinance.

Breen pointed out that this infringes upon the free speech rights of Coalition Life volunteers and others on the public streets and sidewalks of Carbondale, and does so without adequate rationale.

“The City of Carbondale has no justification for this ordinance at any location,” stated Breen. “Dedicated pro-life advocates like those with Coalition Life have maintained a peaceful presence outside the city’s two current  abortion facilities for some time, there have been no complaints of wrongful activity.”

“This ordinance is an attempt to silence us and is a direct assault on our civil rights,” said Brian Westbrook, Executive Director of Coalition Life. “We are taking a stand to protect our ability to remain on public property and offer assistance to those that need it. It’s that simple.”

Read the Complaint for Civil Rights Violations, Injunctive Relief and Declaratory Judgement in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois Eastern Division filed on May 16, 2023, by Thomas More Society attorneys, as Coalition for Life, St. Louis, dba Coalition Life v. City of Carbondale, Illinois, here.

A recording of the press conference announcing the filing is available at