Press Release

Second Circuit sends sidewalk counselor to Supreme Court Faithful Catholic will ask Justices to restore her ability to support women considering abortions outside clinics

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – A devoutly religious sidewalk counselor will soon ask the Supreme Court to restore her ability to offer compassionate support to women considering abortion outside abortion clinics. In Vitagliano v. County of Westchester, a federal appeals court held that sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its heavily criticized decision in Hill v. Colorado (2000), which allowed states and local governments to ban peaceful sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics. With the help of Becket, Debra—who is challenging a recently enacted law in Westchester County, New York, that is modeled on the law upheld in Hill—will soon ask the Supreme Court to do exactly that.

Motivated by her Catholic faith and experience as an occupational therapist for children with disabilities, Debra Vitagliano has been called to offer compassionate, face-to-face support to women considering abortion. Debra desires to counsel these women outside abortion clinics, but Westchester County recently passed a law restricting discussions about abortion, its alternatives, and resources available to women in need, among other things, on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics. The law establishes a 100-foot zone around abortion clinics—including public sidewalks—and prevents anyone from approaching within eight feet of another person in that zone unless given explicit consent.

“My faith calls me to offer help to pregnant women considering abortion. In her most vulnerable state, a woman considering an abortion needs to know that she is loved and that there are other options for her and her child,” said Debra Vitagliano, a sidewalk counselor and resident of Westchester County. “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear my plea and allow me to help these women.”

The County’s law is closely modeled on the Colorado law that the Supreme Court upheld in Hill. But legal scholars and judges have severely criticized Hill, and in 2022 five Justices of the Supreme Court stated that Hill “distorted First Amendment doctrines.” This case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to right Hill’s wrong and protect all those who want to counsel women considering abortion. The Second Circuit ruled that Debra suffered harm from the County’s law, giving her the right to “pursue [her] appeal in the hope that the Supreme Court will revisit and overrule Hill.” The Second Circuit even recognized that Hill “appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions.”

“Americans like Debra have every right to engage in peaceful, face-to-face conversations with women in need on public sidewalks,” said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO at Becket. “Nobody should have to risk jail time and go to court for a peaceful conversation on public sidewalks—even when local government disagrees with them. We are hopeful that the Court will take this case and protect Debra’s ability to serve women in need.”

With the help of Becket, Debra will ask the Supreme Court to protect her ministry as early as next month.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.