Law Protecting 35-foot protest buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics upheld

14 07 2009

On Friday, the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law requiring a 35-foot protest buffer zone outside abortion clinics.  In other words, this law bars anyone from entering a 35-foot zone around the clinics unless they are employed by the clinic, are entering or leaving the clinic, are public safety or municipal officials, or are simply passing through .  The 2007 law was created in an attempt to protect patients and staff from harassment.

Five anti-choice protesters filed the lawsuit originally because they claimed that the law violated their freedom of speech.  The judge, Judge Joseph Tauro, rejected their suit in 2008 and their most recent appeal was rejected on Friday.

It was ruled Friday that the law is “content neutral” (applies to all protesters no matter their viewpoints) and does not violate principles of free speech.

Some view this law as a direct attack on anti-choice protesters, creating a “censorship zone” specifically aimed at suppressing their rights of free speech.  Tim Chandler – legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the plaintiffs, said:

The government cannot single them out for punishment simply because they want to share their message with people entering the clinic.  The government simply cannot create censorship zones where the First Amendment does not apply in order to silence a particular viewpoint.

But a patient or staff member should be able to walk into a clinic without being verbally attacked or fearing for their safety.  Since the law does not prohibit people from expressing their views, but rather redefines the space in which they may protest, many view this law as necessary for the protection of clinic patients and staff.

Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley said that she is “pleased that the First Circuit has upheld this important law, which enhances public safety and access to medical facilities, while preserving the right to engage in expressive activity on public ways and sidewalks near clinics.’’

h/t The Boston Globe and Feminist Daily News


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