Portland, Maine Passes Buffer Zone Infringing on Pro-Life Free Speech

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 19, 2013   |   2:47PM   |   Portland, ME

The First Amendment provides free speech rights to all Americans and has been upheld in court as also protecting the rights of pro-life people who want to get information about abortion alternatives to women heading to local abortion clinics. Not according to the Portland, Maine city council.

Local officials approved an ordinance Monday night to create a 39-foot buffer zone around the entrances of Planned Parenthood’s downtown abortion clinic.
From a local news story that, interestingly, doesn’t quote pro-life advocates the law affects.

The council enacted the 39-foot buffer zone as an emergency measure, so it takes effect immediately, effectively pushing the protesters across Congress Street from the clinic.

“People can still express their free speech with this buffer zone,” said City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. “That’s not being taken away from anyone.”



Protesters have indicated that they will sue the city for violating their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. If they follow through, it will be the third free-speech-related lawsuit filed against the city in less than a year.

Protesters had an unlikely ally in Doug Emerson, who has been a staunch free-speech advocate for artists in the city. Emerson said he doesn’t agree with the vitriol of the protesters, but supports their rights.

“I can’t believe I am speaking on behalf of what I call the other side,” Emerson said. “It’s not as though democracy is pretty or easy.”

The Supreme Court is currently considering an abortion buffer zone in Massachusetts.

“This is clearly a case of ‘viewpoint discrimination,’” stated Dana Cody, Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “Activists who make disturbances at military funerals, animal rights protests, and ‘occupy’ demonstrations are not held to the stringent restrictions applied to peaceful pro-life witnesses who invite women to learn about abortion alternatives,” Cody explained, “It’s a true double standard and an unbelievable violation of First Amendment rights.”

Life Legal Defense Foundation argues that there is no compelling governmental interest in limiting the free speech of pro-life advocates in this way. The brief states that it is presumptively content and viewpoint-based, because the restrictions only apply at abortion clinics. As the brief points out, the reasons for which the Supreme Court condemns this type of restriction in other contexts, such as labor disputes or sexually-oriented businesses, are the same reasons that the lower courts have used to limit speech at abortion clinics.