Supreme Court to Decide if Pro-Life People Have Free Speech at Abortion Clinics

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 15, 2014   |   11:12AM   |   Washington, DC

The Supreme Court today is hearing a case regarding a buffer zone outside abortion clinics in the state of Massachusetts. At issue is whether the state has the right to squelch pro-life free speech and prevent pro-life advocates from protesting or offering women information about abortion alternatives.

Today’s oral arguments concerns the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot “buffer zone” restricting pro-life advocates from speaking with people entering abortion facilities.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit McCullen v. Coakley in 2008 with then lead counsel and allied attorney Michael De Primo and has also provided funding for the case since then. De Primo is currently litigating the case together with two other allied attorneys, Philip Moran and Mark Rienzi. Rienzi, professor of constitutional law at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, is now lead counsel alongside attorneys with the Washington, D.C. firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr, LLP.

“Women considering abortion have the right to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks,” said Rienzi, who will argue before the court Wednesday. “That includes peaceful pro-lifers like Eleanor McCullen, who just wants to offer information and help to those who would like it.”

“The government cannot be allowed to create censorship zones where the First Amendment doesn’t apply,” added De Primo. “This buffer zone censors speakers from engaging in constitutionally protected speech. We hope the Supreme Court will agree and strike down the law that created the zone.”

On Nov. 13, 2007, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law S.B. 1353, which created the buffer zone. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, McCullen v. Coakley, in June of last year.

“Peaceful pro-life citizens should be able to freely share their message to mothers in vital need without having to shout from outside a ‘First Amendment-free zone,’” explained Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden, who will also be available for media interviews following oral arguments. “Massachusetts has no constitutional basis for creating speech-restricted zones because it wants to inhibit a message to which it is politically opposed.”

Lila Rose of Live Action says the case is an important one for pro-life people.

She told LifeNews: “Though the Massachusetts law in question certainly has to do with abortion, and the risk to thousands of innocent human lives is severe, this is a First Amendment issue first and foremost.  The Constitution of the United States does not become void as one gets close to an abortion facility.  The Court has a crucial opportunity today to defend our nation’s foundational commitment to freedom of speech.

“The importance of sidewalk-counseling – of brave, compassionate people standing as a last chance for women who often feel as if they have no choice – cannot be overstated.  Too many times, we’ve seen the Supreme Court pass a death sentence on voiceless children in the womb; it would be yet another injustice to silence any person who speaks out on behalf of these children,” Rose added.

Rev. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, commented to LifeNews as well: “Tragically, the State of Massachusetts has shown utter contempt for free speech and the First Amendment, by setting up buffer zones outside of abortion clinics. Every American should have the right to articulate their views in the public square free from government interference, harassment and persecution regardless of what those views and ideas might be.”

“These buffer zones, which discriminate against members of the pro-life community, are just as offensive as laws that denied African-Americans their basic First Amendment rights during the era of segregation.  The only difference is, pro-life activists are being arrested for their beliefs rather than their skin color,” he added. “These buffer zones also deny women, seeking abortions, the opportunity to hear about  positive, compassionate  real life-affirming alternatives to abortion and receiving concrete assistance to help keep their child.”