For Immediate Release - July 09, 2009

First Circuit Appeals Court Upholds Buffer Zone Law

Attorney General's Office successfully defends constitutionality of statute

BOSTON - In a decision issued yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of the Commonwealth's buffer zone law. That statute creates a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances and driveways of reproductive health care facilities that provide abortion-related services. The law allows persons to enter the buffer zone only to enter or leave the clinic, to reach a destination other than the clinic, or if they work for the clinic or municipality and are acting within the scope of their employment. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office defended the constitutionality of the statute in the federal court proceedings.

The First Circuit upheld the federal district court's prior decision that the buffer zone statute, on its face, is a constitutional means to protect public safety and patient access to such clinics, and does not violate the First Amendment.

"We are pleased that the First Circuit has upheld this important law, which enhances public safety and access to medical facilities, while preserving the right to engage in expressive activity on public ways and sidewalks near clinics," said Attorney General Coakley. "The court agreed that the buffer zone law does not violate the First Amendment because it is content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests, and leaves open ample opportunities for civil engagement on public ways outside of reproductive clinics."

In January 2008, in a lawsuit filed against Attorney General Coakley in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, five plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the new law; they claimed that the law violates their constitutional right to free speech and to engage in expressive activities and behavior in public forums. In August 2008, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro rejected plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs appealed to the First Circuit in September 2008, and filed their appellate brief with the First Circuit on January 26, 2009. On February 26, 2009, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office filed its brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to defend the Commonwealth's buffer zone law. The appeal was argued to the First Circuit on May 5, 2009.

The buffer zone law was signed by Governor Deval Patrick and took effect on November 13, 2007. In May 2007, Attorney General Coakley testified before the Legislature in support of the passage of the legislation.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Kenneth W. Salinger of Attorney General Coakley's Administrative Law Division, and Anna-Marie Tabor of the Civil Rights Division.

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