Massachusetts Judge Rejects Pro-Life Challenge to Abortion Protest Zone
by Steven Ertelt
August 25, 2008
Boston, MA (LifeNews.com) — A Massachusetts judge has rejected a free speech challenge from pro-life advocates to a new buffer zone that limits the free speech rights of protestors and sidewalk counselors. A leading pro-life law firm that filed suit against the law said it is an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in federal court in January against the 35-foot buffer zone around abortion businesses.
The law essentially eliminates free speech rights within the zone by restricting pro-life advocates from sharing their message with people entering, the firm says.
Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs, lead counsel Michael DePrimo said in a statement sent to LifeNews.com.
But U.S District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro disagreed and said in his opinion that the buffer zone statute is "content-neutral and validly regulates the time, place and manner of expressive activity."
As a result, he says the zone passes First Amendment muster according to previous Supreme Court rulings.
[T]his court finds that the 2007 Act (1) is justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech; (2) is narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests; and (3) leaves open ample alternative channels for communication, Tauro concluded.
DePrimo said he thinks it is obvious that lawmakers wanted to limit the free speech rights of pro-life advocates when they approved the ordinance.
The buffer law is breathtaking in its scope. It obviously was designed and intended to squelch pro-life speech, but it prohibits much more, such as labor picketing and charitable solicitations," he explained. "The First Amendment simply does not permit such outlandish restrictions on peaceful speech.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed the measure creating the zone into law on November 13.
Anyone charged with violating the ordinance would face a fine of up to $500 and three months in jail. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $5,000 and 2 1/2 years in prison.
ADF attorneys filed suit on behalf of several pro-life advocates whose ability to communicate peacefully with people was compromised by the law.
The group said that, in some instances, the new law leaves only about one foot of public sidewalk open to free speech, making it virtually impossible to engage in reasoned conversation.
According to the pro-life advocates filing suit, more than 100 women have changed their minds about having an abortion after hearing their message.
The buffer zone is so limiting that even the Boston Globe printed an editorial against it last May.
"Other than political pandering, there seems to be little cause for changing the law so that the constitutional right to free speech falls somewhere below the right of clinic workers and patients to come and go without being yelled at," it said. "This is a solution in search of a problem."
The newspaper isn’t alone in opposing the bill. The measure has also drawn opposition from the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Boston Division and the case is McCullen v. Coakley.
Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org
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