Florida Bill Seeks To Criminalize Protests Near Abortion Clinics

Sen. Lauren Book (D-FL) has introduced a bill, SB 254, which seeks to regulate protests near healthcare centers, including abortion clinics. Under SB 254, it would become “unlawful for a person to picket or protest inside of or within 150 feet of a health care facility with the intent to harass or disturb an individual in or about such facility or to disturb or disrupt the operations of the facility.”

In a press release promoting the bill, Book, who is Florida’s Senate Minority Leader, stated, “Women deserve access to legitimate and trusted reproductive healthcare services, and the freedom to safely receive care without fear of misinformation, harassment, or harm.”

“It’s long past time for Florida to prioritize women’s health, protect the safety of doctors and patients, and ensure that public funds are directed toward accurate and accountable healthcare services,” she added.

The bill classifies violations as a misdemeanor of the second degree, with a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

Critics have raised concerns about potential First Amendment issues. However, according to Jossie Barroso, Book’s communication director, the bill aims to establish a “free speech zone” that ensures the safety and privacy of doctors and patients while still respecting the right to protest. 

“The free speech zone simply shifts the line back for the safety and privacy of doctors and patients. The language is based on similar laws that regulate protesting and soliciting in places like homes and polling locations,” Barroso claimed.

In addition to SB 254, Book is also championing SB 256, which targets crisis pregnancy centers, often referred to as “fake clinics.” This legislation aims to require such centers to be licensed and undergo inspections. 

For Book, the efforts made by these centers to encourage more women to embrace parenting or adoption is a problem. According to the press release, the centers, which allegedly “masquerade as medical facilities,” “pressure women toward parenting or adoption while actively discouraging contraceptive use.”

Book’s proposed legislation were met with criticism, with Founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, Andrew Shirvell, chalking them up to “nothing more than the latest publicity stunts from an irrelevant, fanatically pro-abortion Democrat faction within a pro-life supermajority Florida Legislature.”

Legislative affairs director for the Florida Family Policy Council, Aaron DiPietro, called both bills “a direct attack on the work of wonderful pro-life advocates seeking to protect the lives of precious babies and their mothers, both on the sidewalks outside of abortion clinics and inside the pregnancy care centers.”

President of Abolish Abortion Florida, Bonnie Cannone, also weighed in on the matter, saying, “It doesn’t surprise me that Lauren Book wants to stop people from trying to convince women against murdering their children.”

“Of course, if our ‘pro-life’ legislators were to actually criminalize abortion murder under existing homicide laws, we would no longer need sidewalk counselors,” she added.