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Sidewalk Counseling and The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievance. -The First Amendment

First Amendment

It is important to remember that the First Amendment provides the most protection on public property. Speech occurring on property where you are not permitted is not protected. That means speech by you on the private property of an abortion facility is not protected by the First Amendment. So, you should stay on public property when sidewalk counseling. Below are several examples of common sidewalk counseling activities that are protected by the First Amendment.

Types of Peaceful Sidewalk Counseling

  • Prayer
  • Leafleting
  • Picketing
  • Demonstrating

Reminder: You have the right to engage and speak with those entering an abortion facility. But keep in mind that you should remain calm and peaceful, and you should never attempt to touch someone (such as a hug or touch their hand) without their permission.

What is NOT protected by the First Amendment?

  • Crimes Involving Speech
  • Trespassing/Activities on Private Property
  • Incitement
  • Fighting Words
  • Threats
  • Defamation
  • Solicitation to Commit Crime
  • Obscenity

Keep in Mind:

  • First Amendment does not protect harassment
  • First Amendment does not protect trespassing
  • Freedom Access to Clinic Entrances Act
    • A sidewalk counselor cannot physically block, injure, intimidate, or interfere with people coming in or out of an abortion clinic.   
  • Sidewalk counselors cannot obstruct traffic. It is important to remember not to block driveways.
  • Laws differ greatly by state or city.   

For a more detailed legal guide for sidewalk counseling, visit to download their free “A Legal Guide for Sidewalk Counselors.”