First Circuit Upholds Planned Parenthood “Buffer Zone” Against Protestors

The First Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a Massachusetts law creating a “buffer zone”[1] — a 35 feet radius around a reproductive health care facility that is off-limits to protestors[2].  The Act states[3]:

 (b) No person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius of 35 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit or driveway of a reproductive health care facility or within the area within a rectangle created by extending the outside boundaries of any entrance, exit or driveway of a reproductive health care facility in straight lines to the point where such lines intersect the sideline of the street in front of such entrance, exit or driveway. This subsection shall not apply to the following:—

(1) persons entering or leaving such facility; (2) employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment; (3) law enforcement, ambulance, firefighting, construction, utilities, public works and other municipal agents acting within the scope of their employment; and (4) persons using the public sidewalk or street right-of-way adjacent to such facility solely for the purpose of reaching a destination other than such facility.

Although viewpoint neutral, the intent of this law is mainly to prevent protestors from harassing, intimidating, or otherwise interfere with, women seeking certain reproductive services, like abortions.  Opponents of the law regularly challenge such statutes under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.  While Americans enjoy freedom of speech, that freedom is not unfettered.  The District Court previously ruled against the plaintiffs and upheld the constitutionality of the statute[4].

The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, stating:

Few subjects have proven more controversial in modern times than the issue of abortion. The nation is sharply divided about the morality of the practice and its place in a caring society. But the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter healthcare facilities cannot seriously be questioned. The Massachusetts statute at issue here is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others.[5] 


[3] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 120E 1/2

[4] McCullen v. Coakley, 573 F. Supp. 2d 382 (D. Mass. 2008)

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