Bubble zone ordinance unlikely to return to aldermen

By Stuart R. Wahlin
Staff Writer

In February, when aldermen on the Rockford City Council’s Codes and Regulations Committee agreed to table a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal for anti-abortion activists to come within 8 feet of patients or employees within a 100-foot radius of a clinic entrance without consent, the possibility of revisiting the issue months later was left open.

The proposed “bubble zone” ordinance, championed by Ald. Karen Elyea (D-11) and drafted by city attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia, was modeled after a similar measure approved by the Chicago City Council in October 2009. Because Chicago’s law now appears to be crumbling in the courts, Rockford leaders aren’t likely to discuss the ordinance again.

Aug. 13, the second case against a person charged with disorderly conduct under Chicago’s law was dismissed. David Avignone, a student at Chicago’s Loyola University, was arrested July 8 outside the city’s north side Planned Parenthood clinic. Avignone’s alleged crime, according to court documents, was “offering a pamphlet and verbal counsel.”

“We are pleased that, for the second time, the City of Chicago has dismissed the false charges of disorderly conduct against a man who was properly and legally exercising his First Amendment rights on the public way,” responded Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society. “We hope these two baseless cases involving alleged ‘Bubble Zone’ ‘infractions’ show the Chicago City Council why it should repeal this controversial ordinance altogether and cease efforts to scare pro-life people away from Planned Parenthood.”

Ten days earlier, the city dismissed similar charges against Northwestern University graduate student Joe Holland, who was arrested outside the same facility while praying the rosary.

“David and Joe, arrested within a week of one another, were arrested even though they were both standing still, which is perfectly legal under the ordinance,” Breen noted.

In Avignone’s case, Breen asserted the defendant never physically approached the woman, and that she spoke with Avignone for more than one minute, which Breen argued implied consent.

From the Aug. 18-24, 2010 issue

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