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Published On: Thu, Jun 26th, 2014

Supreme Court strikes down abortion clinic ‘buffer zone’ in Massachusetts, Chicago next

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Massachusetts buffer zone around abortion clinics noting that the 35-foot barrier to keep out protesters was in conflict to the freedoms of demonstrators. Supporters of the statute may have been shocked by the unity of the court.

Participants in the "March for life" walk along Concord Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee,  photo Michael Stansberry via wikimedia commons

Participants in the “March for life” walk along Concord Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, photo Michael Stansberry via wikimedia commons

“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” the court said.

“Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. Though the state has an interest in public safety, attempting to prevent confrontations, it “pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers.”

Eleanor McCullen, the lead petitioner in the case, was thrilled as she spoke to the press. “It restores your faith in the country,” said McCullen. “The court recognized our First Amendment rights, and now I’ll have a chance to speak to people one-on-one.”

The pro-lifer added that the “buffer zone” impeded her efforts to speak with people entering a clinic at Brookline. She stands outside of the clinic to offer support and an alternative to abortion, she says.

“It definitely impeded our message,” she said. “If someone isn’t interested, that’s fine. But I’d like to be there to help…This is life and death. This is about a little child.”

When asked, McCullen said she had no plans to assemble in large numbers at clinics now that the law has changed and didn’t know anyone who would organize such a gathering. “We’re not there to disturb the peace,” she said. “We’ll be gentle and loving.”

Roe v Wade pro life poster generation abortionPro-Life supporters at the Thomas More Society has successfully defended pro-life advocates against Chicago’s bubble zone ordinance, which they describe as a controversial and confusing buffer zone that impacts pro-life activists outside of abortion clinics. They are hopeful this will set forth the motions to get that statute revoked as well.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, defending the law issued a statement. “We are not going to give up our fight to make sure women have safe access to reproductive health care. We will utilize all of the tools we have available to protect everyone from harassment, threats, and physical obstruction. I will work with the Governor, Legislature and advocates to explore additional legislative tools that also meet the court’s requirements.”

Later at the news conference, Coakley said the court’s decision did not strike down a provision of the law prohibiting the “intentional blocking” of abortion clinics, and that her office’s civil rights division was prepared to issue injunctions against “those who would threaten or harass.”

The abortion opponents who filed the appeal “wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history. [Massachusetts officials] assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities,” Roberts said delivering the court’s opinion.

“But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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  1. Massachusetts Gov Deval Patrick ignores Supreme Court ruling, order abortion clinic ‘buffer zone’ - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] The Supreme Court ruled, but the Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick appears determined to keep a buffer zone around abortion facilities signing a bill which would prohibit pro-life speech around abortion clinics. The previous “buffer zone” law that forbid pro-life advocates from speaking to women within 35 feet of a clinic was struck down by the Supreme Court in late June. […]

  2. » Free speech and the high court: Its own no-protest regulations at issue – CNN says:

    […] Science MonitorBoston to ramp up police presence around abortion clinicsChicago TribuneSupreme Court strikes down abortion clinic 'buffer zone' in Massachusetts …The Global DispatchWCSH-TV -eNews Park Forest -Daily Pressall 557 news […]

  3. Howard Baker: the real story of his famous Watergate question – Christian Science Monitor says:

    […] Its own no-protest regulations at issueCNNChristian Science Monitor -Chicago Tribune -The Global Dispatchall 568 news […]

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