Sidewalk Counseling

PRO-LIFE CLINIC WITNESS

Many pro-lifers are unaware of their rights to engage in sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about those rights.

Is sidewalk counseling a constitutional right?

Yes. The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution protects the “freedom of speech.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that peaceful communication—such as spoken words, display of signs, and leafleting—are all protected forms of free speech, especially in public places like sidewalks and parks.

What if somebody tells me to “shut up” or to go away?

The right to free speech in public places does not depend upon the consent of the listeners. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that speech cannot be censored simply because the speaker’s message irritates or offends a listener.

Does the FACE bill outlaw sidewalk counseling?

No. The 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act does not prohibit sidewalk counseling.

FACE makes it a federal offense when someone “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with” any person because that person is “obtaining or providing reproductive health services.” In plain English, the law forbids blocking or physically impeding access to the facility, violence, and threats of violence.

FACE specifically exempts “any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration)” protected by the First Amendment. A sidewalk counselor who does not use force, or threats of force, or physical obstruction does not violate FACE.