Pro-life group says vaccine protest curbs too broad in California


A six-day-old California law banning protests within 100 feet of any facility offering any type of vaccination was challenged in federal court Wednesday by a pro-life group that says the measure blocks its protests at a Fresno abortion facility.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a public interest law firm, sued California state Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, on behalf of Right to Life of Central California.

At issue is SB 742, which Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who defeated a recall vote last month, signed into law Oct. 8. The measure bans protests when a speaker is within 30 feet of another individual who is “seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site.” The law also restricts protests within 100 feet of the entrance or exit of such a site, but exempts “lawful picketing arising out of a labor dispute.”

Violation of the measure is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, six months’ imprisonment in county jail, or both.

In the case of Right to Life of Central California, ADF said in a statement, the pro-life group’s parking lot is adjacent to, and its offices share a sidewalk with, Planned Parenthood’s main Fresno abortion clinic. The clinic administers a vaccine aimed at preventing infections with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which has been documented to cause cervical cancer.

The new California statute was enacted to avoid harassment of those seeking vaccination against COVID-19, its sponsor, state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and a Sacramento Democrat, said in a statement. The legislation’s preamble also specifically singles out COVID-19 vaccinations as a focus of the measure.  

“Health care workers administering vaccines and saving lives need local officials to have SB742 to keep them and their patients safe from extremists who obstruct and threaten people with violence and loss of privacy for participating in COVID-19 vaccination clinics,” Mr. Pan said in a statement, which made no reference to any other type of inoculation.

According to ADF senior counsel Denise Harle, “We are asking the court to strike down this unconstitutional law that violates staff and volunteers’ free speech rights and allow Right to Life to continue its critical role of serving vulnerable women and children in central California.”

“Our compassionate and competent staff and volunteers shine a bright light in this community through their loving care and support for women who are facing an incredibly difficult time in their lives,” John Gerardi, executive director of the pro-life group, said in a statement. “Through this new state law, the government is silencing our voice from the public square. We will continue advocating for California’s most vulnerable persons — the unborn — and caring for and supporting their mothers.”

The action, Right to Life of Central California v. Rob Bonta was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. 

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