For Immediate Release - January 09, 2013

AG Statement on Court’s Decision to Uphold Constitutionality of State’s Buffer Zone Law

BOSTON – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley issued the following statement on the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit which upheld a lower court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the state’s buffer zone law as it applies to entrances to Planned Parenthood facilities in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

“We are pleased that the court has once again upheld the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law which provides safe access to reproductive health care facilities while preserving freedom of expression. We have always believed, and the court agreed, that the buffer zone leaves open the opportunity for civil engagement on public areas around these facilities while ensuring that patients and health care providers can safely access these facilities.”

BACKGROUND:

In February 2012, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro upheld the constitutionality of the law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances and driveways of reproductive health care facilities that provide abortion 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.

Judge Tauro rejected plaintiffs' claims that the statute 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.

In January 2008, in a lawsuit filed against Attorney General Coakley in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, plaintiffs had more broadly challenged the constitutionality of the buffer zone law.  In August 2008, Judge 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 Aug. 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 to the Planned Parenthood facilities 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 Nov.13, 2007.  In May 2007, Attorney General Coakley testified before the Legislature in support of the passage of the legislation.

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