Massachusetts Law Blocking Pro-Life Free Speech Upheld

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 23, 2012   |   6:24PM   |   Boston, MA

A federal judge rejected a challenge to a buffer zone law in Massachusetts that prevents pro-life advocates from exercising their free speech rights to protest and present abortion alternatives information to people outside abortion facilities.

US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro rejected claims that the law, affecting abortion centers in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, infringed on First Amendment rights. In his ruling, he said the law “as applied is a valid regulation of the time, place, and manner of Plaintiffs’ speech.”

“From the evidence,” Tauro wrote, “it is clear that the Act, as applied at each of the challenged [reproductive health care facilities] leaves open ample adequate alternative means of communication.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley, an abortion advocate who defended the law, said, “We are pleased that the court has upheld the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law, which enhances public safety and access to reproductive health care facilities, while preserving freedom of expression. The court agreed that the buffer zone leaves open ample opportunities for communication and civil engagement on the public ways outside the facilities.”

The Boston Globe reported further:

The law creates a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around the driveways and entrances of clinics.

The lawsuit was brought by seven residents who regularly engage in anti-abortion counseling outside the three clinics. They filed suit in April 2008, claiming violation of their free speech rights, free association, due process, and equal protection rights.

Tauro split the case into two parts, the first a challenge to the law itself, and the second a challenge to the law as applied.

In August 2008, Tauro ruled on the first challenge, upholding the law itself. The plaintiffs appealed and the First US Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld it. The US Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

Tauro held a bench trial in August 2011 on the challenge to the law as applied and then took the matter under advisement until issuing his 30-page ruling today.

Massachusetts Citizens for Life told LifeNews today it is not happy with the decision, with its president Anne Fox commenting.

“Unfortunately, it has become common in this country for laws to apply differently when they have to do with abortion. The idea that people cannot express their views within a 35 foot radius – i.e. a circle with a 70 foot diameter – of an abortion facility is un-American. It is also ludicrous. Given the huge size of the zone, people have been approached by the police for engaging in activities on their own properties, which happen to be next door to abortion facilities. This happened recently in Worcester,” she said.

Fox added, “Courts have struck down less onerous laws in other states because they infringe on the First Amendment rights of U. S. citizens. We feel certain that higher courts will strike down the Massachusetts ‘Buffer Zone'”