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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE Background Briefing: The Constitutionality of the Federal Clinic Access Act For IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday, June 27, 1994 On May 26, President Clinton signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, as it is known. The law is intended to stop the rising tide of violence against abortion providers and their patients. Days later, the Council for Life Coalition and several individuals filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California to block enforcement of FACE, charging that it will infringe antiabortion protesters' constitutional rights to free expression and freedom of religion. Several other antiabortion organizations and individuals have filed additional lawsuits to stop enforcement of FACE. The American Civil Liberties Union is defending FACE against the proliferating attacks. As the nation's preeminent advocate of both free speech and reproductive rights, the ACLU is uniquely qualified to evaluate the constitutionality of FACE. We will file friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the law, demonstrating that FACE, by its terms, does not restrict constitutionally protected activity. Over the last two decades in which abortion has become a highly politicized issue, the ACLU has worked vigorously to guarantee that both women seeking abortions and demonstrators protesting abortion are able to exercise their constitutional rights. The ACLU was the first organization, years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, to assert the right of all women to obtain abortions. Lawyers in the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project argued several of the critical reproductive rights cases in the Supreme Court in recent years, including Hodgson v. Minnesota and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The ACLU has also defended the rights of antiabortion protesters, among others. For example, the ACLU of Florida persuaded legislators to redraft portions of a proposed state clinic access bill that imposed overly broad restrictions on demonstrators. The ACLU of Connecticut publicly demanded that police stop using "pain compliance" techniques on clinic demonstrators and sponsored the introduction of legislation to prohibit the use of such techniques on peaceful protesters. The ACLU has prepared a friend-of-the-court brief in the California challenge to FACE that argues that the law as drafted is constitutional. FACE prohibits the use of force, true threats of force, physical obstruction and property damage. None of these activities is protected by the First Amendment. Individuals wishing to express their views about abortion have the same rights as everyone else in this country to speak, pray, chant, sing and demonstrate. These rights are undisturbed by FACE. But like everyone else, they have no right to communicate their message by shooting doctors, kidnapping clinic staff, spraying butyric acid on clinic property, destroying medical equipment, or physically blockading access to reproductive health facilities. Those who engage in this conduct may believe themselves to be promoting a vision of morality, but the First Amendment does not immunize their vigilantism. Because FACE does not penalize protected expressive activities, claims of content or viewpoint discrimination fail. Just as Congress was free during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s to provide special protection for polling places, voters, and those assisting others to exercise their franchise, Congress is free now to respond to the escalating violence at reproductive health facilities by protecting these facilities, their staffs and their patients. So long as protected expression remains unfettered, as it does under FACE, Congress may address any problem it views as pressing. Because FACE restricts no protected activity, it is not overbroad. Because its key terms are either explicitly defined in a manner that avoids infringement of free speech or else readily susceptible to interpretation in line with established constitutional principles, the statute is not vague. Finally, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Religious Freedom Restoration Act entitles individuals to engage in the prohibited conduct with impunity. Guarantees of religious freedom are not shields for violence against or physical obstruction of others exercising protected rights. Moreover, FACE does not target any religious practice or belief for discrimination. It punishes violations of its terms regardless of whether the perpetrators are motivated by religious belief or secular dogma. From the outset, the ACLU worked in Congress to ensure that FACE would not abridge the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters. The ACLU's Washington Office took an active role in analyzing the bill and proposing revisions aimed at providing full protection for the constitutional rights of individuals on both sides of the abortion debate. Moreover, we intend to monitor enforcement of the law on an ongoing basis to ensure that it is not misinterpreted and misapplied to restrict protected speech. FACE has already attracted the media spotlight and is certain to retain a high level of public interest as it generates civil litigation and criminal prosecutions. Seven challenges to block the enforcement of FACE have now been filed in federal courts in Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Louisiana, and Virginia, and the U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has filed the first criminal complaint under the statute. As you frame for the public the important constitutional issues at stake, we hope that you will draw upon the ACLU's unsurpassed expertise in striking the sensitive balance between competing constitutional rights. --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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