Press Release

Sidewalk counselor asks Supreme Court to protect ministry Faithful Catholic asks Justices to restore her ability to support abortion-vulnerable women

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON A sidewalk counselor asked the Supreme Court today to restore her ability to offer compassionate support to abortion-vulnerable women outside abortion clinics. In Vitagliano v. County of Westchester, a federal appeals court ruled last month that Catholic sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its heavily criticized decision in Hill v. Colorado, which allowed states and local governments to ban peaceful life-affirming advocacy on public sidewalks. Today, Debra—who is challenging a recent law in Westchester County, New York, that is modeled after the law upheld in Hill—asked the Supreme Court to reconsider Hill and protect all those who wish to offer help and information to women in need.  

Motivated by her Catholic faith and experience as an occupational therapist for special-needs children, Debra Vitagliano felt called to offer compassionate, face-to-face support to women considering abortion. Debra desires to help these women in the most critical moment—when they are approaching the abortion clinic. But last year Westchester County, New York, passed a law restricting discussions about abortion, its alternatives, and resources available to abortion-vulnerable women 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. This ban on sidewalk counseling deprives abortion-vulnerable women of a final opportunity to receive help and learn about additional resources before potentially making a life-altering choice.    

“I am called to be a compassionate voice to abortion-vulnerable women, letting them know that that they are loved, supported, and can choose life for their babies,” said Debra Vitagliano, a sidewalk counselor and resident of Westchester County. “I pray that the Justices will take this case and allow me to help women in need.” 

Westchester County’s law is modeled after and materially identical to the Colorado law that the Supreme Court upheld in Hill. But legal scholars and judges have long criticized Hill, and last year five Justices of the Supreme Court stated that Hill was a major departure from our nation’s protections of free speech. Debra’s case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to right Hill’s wrong and protect all those who want to serve abortion-vulnerable women. 

“No one should be arrested and put behind bars for having peaceful, face-to-face conversations on a public sidewalk,” said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO at Becket. “The Court should fix the mistake of Hill and make clear that the First Amendment protects these offers of help and information to women in need.”  

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.