Massachusetts Abortion-Free Speech Buffer Zone Gets Appeals Court Hearing
by Steven Ertelt
May 4, 2009
Boston, MA (LifeNews.com) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit will hold a hearing on Tuesday concerning an appeal of a judge’s decision rejecting a free speech challenge to a new buffer zone. Pro-life advocates say the buffer zone limits the free speech rights of abortion protestors and sidewalk counselors.
The Alliance Defense Fund says the law is an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights and filed suit against the 35-foot buffer zone around abortion businesses in January 2008.
The legal group says the law essentially eliminates free speech rights within the zone by restricting pro-life advocates from sharing their message with people entering.
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."
ADF attorneys appealed the decision to the First Circuit and allied attorney Michael DePrimo will present oral argument before the members of the court tomorrow. DePrimo will be arguing on behalf of several pro-life advocates who filed the suit collectively.
Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs, DePrimo told LifeNews.com.
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," he explained.
We hope that the court will strike down this law so that our clients and other peaceful pro-life citizens can once again freely express their message with those contemplating abortion, DePrimo added. This buffer zone was designed to take away their rights and censor speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.
In his ruling, Judge Tauro said 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 zone is so limiting that even the Boston Globe printed an editorial against it.
"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.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law S.B. 1353, which created the buffer zone, in November 2007.
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.
Phillip Moran of the Law and Liberty Institute is serving as co-counsel on the case.
The Alliance Defense Fund originally 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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