Free Speech Denied

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Outside an abortion clinic in Oakland, California, Reverend Walter Hoye offers sidewalk counseling to women considering abortion. But according to a new Oakland city ordinance, Walter’s counseling is now considered harassment. The Bubble Ordinance prohibits sidewalk counselors from getting within eight feet of women entering abortion facilities, making it nearly impossible for counselors to offer help. The law only applies to pro-life advocates.

Walter was arrested May 13, 2008, for holding a sign and offering literature to women entering the facility. After a 13-day trial, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years probation and a $1,000 fine. Upon his release, Walter and attorney Mike Millen began to fight the constitutionality of the Bubble Ordinance. They argued that the ordinance is a direct violation of free speech rights since it targets only one group and favors the abortion facilities.

Also aiding Walter in his legal battle was Pastor Dion Evans, who has witnessed the impact of Walter’s actions on Oakland and the pro-life community. (Season 4, Episode 2)

UPDATE: while the district court upheld the constitutionality of the ordinance in 2009, in 2011 the Ninth Circuit court noted that the application of the law was “constitutionally invalid” because it was being applied only to Hoye and not to pro-abortion “escorts” and advocates. His conviction was overturned in 2010.

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