Break out the flying pig graphic! Hard as it may be to believe, the 9th Circuit Court has actually made a ruling at least partially favorable to pro-lifers seeking to engage in sidewalk counseling in the city of Oakland.
In a fascinating ruling full of many twists, turns, and side discussions, the court rules that Oakland's fully admitted policy of enforcing a bubble zone ordinance against pro-lifers but not against pro-abortion clinic "escorts" is unconstitutional. The ordinance itself is facially content neutral, and hence, according to the Supreme Court Hill precedent which declared bubble zones constitutional, is constitutional.
The ordinance itself says that without being invited, you may not approach someone seeking to enter an abortion clinic within the bubble zone for purposes of counseling or educating that person, giving that person a pamphlet, etc. This apparently applies to everyone. In fact, interestingly, an earlier version of the ordinance was not content neutral and hence was facially unconstitutional, because it applied only to people seeking to dissuade women from obtaining services at an abortion clinic. Even though the facially neutral ordinance is the one now on the books, the city of Oakland freely admits that it is enforcing the law only against pro-lifers. The pro-life activist who is suing claims (understandably enough) that the "escorts" (who can approach the women immediately and within the bubble zone) are making it impossible for him, from outside the bubble zone, to convey his message to women trying to enter the clinics.
The 9th Circuit has instructed the District Court to tell the city that it must enforce the ordinance even-handedly and has encouraged the District Court, if it believes that the city will not do so, to enjoin the ordinance altogether.
This is an important ruling, because the Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of one-sided enforcement and clinic "escorts." I cannot help wondering in how many other cities such ordinances are similarly enforced. If these "escorts" also had to follow the same bubble zone rules as pro-lifers, it could be a game-changer. This is one to watch.
HT: Secondhand Smoke