Appeals Court Upholds Law Squashing Pro-Life Free Speech Outside Abortion Clinics

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 13, 2017   |   2:05PM   |   Concord, New Hampshire

A federal appeals court upheld a New Hampshire buffer zone law on Wednesday that prohibits pro-life protesters from coming within 25 feet of an abortion facility.

The New Hampshire Union Leader reports the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because the law has not been enforced, it can stand. Judge Sandra Lynch described the pro-lifers’ lawsuit as “premature”; however, the court left open the possibility of future challenges if an abortion facility decides to enforce the buffer zone.

Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney Michael Tierney, who represents New Hampshire pro-lifers in the case, said they are considering their next steps.

“An unconstitutional law shouldn’t remain on the books just because abortionists haven’t taken advantage of the power the law gives them to silence free speech,” Tierney said in a statement. “The 1st Circuit’s decision made no determination as to whether the New Hampshire statute would pass constitutional muster. Instead, the court left the law in place without further scrutiny unless and until an abortion business wields it.”

The pro-life legal group said the law allows the creation of 25-foot censorship zones in which no person may speak, stand or enter on public ways and sidewalks outside of abortion facilities.

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The law explicitly exempts abortion facility escorts, allowing such individuals to engage in speech and expressive activities favorable to abortion – encouraging and compelling women to enter the abortion facilities and continue with the abortions – while prohibiting pro-life advocates from engaging in any expressive activity within the zones, LifeNews previously reported.

If the pro-lifers decide to appeal, the next step would be to the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a similar Massachusetts buffer zone law in the case McCullen v. Coakley. Alliance Defending Freedom also was involved in that case.

The appeals court, however, said there were differences between the New Hampshire law and the Massachusetts law in its ruling on Wednesday.

The decision read, in part: “The plaintiffs have not alleged that the law has meaningfully altered their expressive activities, nor that it has objectively chilled their exercise of First Amendment rights. Because no facility in New Hampshire has yet demarcated a zone, and there is no present evidence that a zone will ever be demarcated, the plaintiffs’ alleged injury is too speculative.

“… Simply put, there literally is no prior restraint here imposed; there is only a delegation of the power to impose a restriction on speech, via demarcation of a zone, at some point in the future.”

A U.S. District Court judge issued a similar decision upholding the law in April, claiming the pro-lifers’ lawsuit was “premature” because abortion facilities were not enforcing the buffer zones.