A decision in a Washington courtroom could buoy pro-life sentiments on this side of the border.

The U.S. Supreme Court in late February ruled that a 15-foot “floating buffer zone”, designed to prevent pro-lifers from approaching abortion-seeking women and staff on any public thoroughfare, contravenes freedom of expression guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.

It’s not a complete victory for pro-life interests, for activists must stay 15 feet away from abortion clinics and they must retreat from contact if patients or staff communicates such a desire.

Nonetheless the decision is welcome for its recognition of the importance of free communication in the highly charged abortion debate.

American pro-life leaders have praised the courts for upholding the Constitution, rather than using the legal system as a means of social engineering. Many in the pro-life movement have lamented how the cherished free speech ideal seems to have been lost when it comes to abortion. As one commentator noted, “Why should people going into an abortion clinic have the right to silence others, a right not shared by people on the public sidewalks approached by pollsters and panhandlers?”

The U.S. court decision is welcome not only for upholding some semblance of free speech, but for the tacit importance it attached to public witnessing against abortion.

Sidewalk counselling is a vital cog in the pro-life machinery. Not only do counsellors maintain a pro-life presence outside big-city abortion mills, they also represent a final opportunity to present abortion-seeking women with life-affirming alternatives.

It will be interesting to note if the American decision in any way influences the situation in British Columbia and Ontario, where sidewalk counsellors continue the struggle against restrictive, unfair, politically-motivated injunctions.