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Sidewalk counselor says Colorado’s ban on approaching people outside abortion clinics violates her free speech

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, a pro-life woman is asking a federal judge to overturn a Colorado law prohibiting her from counseling women outside abortion clinics.

DENVER (CN) — A pro-life woman who wants to counsel women outside Denver-area abortion clinics sued Colorado Governor Jared Polis in federal court on Thursday, claiming a state law prohibiting protest within 8 feet of healthcare facilities prevents her from carrying out her religious calling and violates her First Amendment rights.

Denver resident Wendy Faustin considers abortion "a horrific moral wrong." She says her religious beliefs compel her to perform “sidewalk counseling” outside abortion clinics, where she wants to connect with women and persuade them to carry pregnancies to term.

A decades-old law in Colorado criminalizes approaching people outside abortion clinics with the intent to protest or educate, preventing Faustin from following her calling. While she hopes to have “close, personal conversations” with women seeking abortions, the law requires Faustin to stay 8 feet away, even on a public sidewalk. Violations of the state law are punishable by a $300 fine and up to 10 days in jail.

“The government may not target life-affirming speech simply because it disagrees with the message. That is unlawful viewpoint discrimination,” said Faustin’s attorney, Roger Byron of the First Liberty Institute, in a statement. “It should not be a crime to lovingly and compassionately approach another person to tell them about alternatives to abortion.”

The First Liberty Institute is based out of Plano, Texas.

In her lawsuit, Faustin argues the Colorado law and a similar Denver ordinance are content-based and biased toward a specific viewpoint.

“Defendants’ ban on approaching women outside of abortion clinics to speak with them unquestionably discriminates based on the content — and even the viewpoint — of speech,” the lawsuit says. “On its face, the ban applies only to speech with a particular purpose and message: speech ‘for the purpose … of engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling.’”

In efforts to protect the “unwilling listener’s interest in avoiding unwanted communication from pro-life speakers,” Faustin claims the law unfairly favors one side of the abortion debate.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Colorado law in the 2000 case Hill v. Colorado, but three associate justices dissented: Anthony Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Following the 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reversed abortion protections set by 1973's Roe v. Wade, Faustin asks the court to overturn Hill v. Colorado and uphold her First Amendment rights.

Following Dobbs, Colorado lawmakers codified the right to seek an abortion into the state constitution and sought to expand protections for individuals seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

In addition to suing the state governor, Faustin named as defendants Attorney General Phil Weiser and several district attorneys, all of whom are Democrats. Faustin asks the court to declare that the Colorado law violates her right to free speech and enjoin the named defendants from enforcing it.

Representatives from the attorney general’s office declined to comment. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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