Federal Court Upholds Buffer Zone Law
Attorney General’s Office Successfully Defends Constitutionality of Statute
BOSTON – Today a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law as it applies to reproductive health care facilities in Boston, Worcester and Springfield. That law 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.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro rejected plaintiffs' claims that the statute, as it applies to the Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, violated their constitutional right to free speech and to engage in expressive activities and behavior in public forums. The court held that the buffer zone, as applied at these locations, leaves open ample alternative channels of communication and thus is a valid regulation of the time, place, and manner of plaintiff’s speech.
“We are pleased that the court has upheld the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law, which enhances public safety and access to reproductive health care facilities, while preserving freedom of expression,” said Attorney General Coakley. “The court agreed that the buffer zone leaves open ample opportunities for communication and civil engagement on the public ways outside the facilities.”
The First Circuit previously upheld the federal district court's 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.
In January 2008, in a lawsuit filed against Attorney General Coakley in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the buffer zone law. In August 2008, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro rejected plaintiffs' claims that the statute, on its face, violated their constitutional right to free speech and to engage in expressive activities and behavior in public forums. In July 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari in March 2010. Plaintiffs then proceeded with their as applied challenge back before the district court. On August 24, 2011, Judge Tauro presided over a bench trial on a stipulated set of facts relating to plaintiffs’ claim that the buffer zone, as applied in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield failed to leave open adequate alternative channels of communication. The court rejected plaintiff’s claims.
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 Gabrielle Viator of the Civil Rights Division, with the assistance of Kristen Metzger of the Investigations Division.