For Immediate Release - November 25, 2013

Briefs Filed with U.S. Supreme Court in Support of Buffer Zone Law

Eleven Briefs Represent Wide Range of Perspectives in Area of Reproductive Health and Civil Rights

BOSTON – Representing a wide range of perspectives and interests in the arenas of reproductive health and civil rights, eleven amicus briefs have been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ buffer zone law, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.

“We are pleased to receive the support of such a broad range of groups and perspectives in our defense of the buffer zone law,” AG Coakley said.  “These briefs underscore our contention that the law balances constitutional rights appropriately while protecting the rights of women to safely receive health care.”

The 2007 law protects public safety and patient access to reproductive health care facilities by creating a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances and driveways throughout Massachusetts.

Groups and entities filing briefs with the Supreme Court include:

Collectively, the briefs highlight the other areas in which buffer zone laws are applicable or utilized, such as military funerals; the ongoing need for the protection of access to reproductive health clinics both in Massachusetts and nationwide; the vital need for reproductive health care in a variety of circumstances, particularly early in pregnancy; and the myriad ways in which government protects the exercise of rights through laws analogous to the buffer zone.

The briefs were all filed in the case of McCullen v. Coakley pdf format of    12-1168  , No. 12-1168, which will be heard by the Supreme Court on Jan. 15.

Background on the Buffer Zone Litigation

In 2000, the state passed its first buffer zone law, an 18-foot floating buffer that failed to prevent protestors from blocking entrances and intimidating patients. After a decades-long attempt to strike the right balance, Massachusetts finally settled on the fixed 35-foot buffer zone law currently in place.

In May 2007, AG Coakley testified in support of the passage of the new legislation. The law, which was signed by Governor Deval Patrick and took effect on Nov. 13, 2007, prohibits any person from knowingly entering or remaining within public ways and sidewalks inside the 35-foot buffer zone. The buffer zone is in effect only during the clinic’s business hours and only if the buffer zone is clearly marked and posted. This new law has been proven an effective tool in allowing access while providing plenty of opportunity for protesters, including the petitioners challenging the law, to communicate their message.

Since the revised law was enacted, it has been the subject of litigation. In January 2008, five plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the new law, alleging that the law violated their right to free speech.

In August 2008, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. In July 2009, the First Circuit upheld the federal district court’s decision that the buffer zone statute is a constitutional means to protect public safety and patient access to such clinics, and does not violate the First Amendment.

However, the case was sent back to district court to address how the law was being applied in specific circumstances. In February 2012, Judge Tauro again rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the statute, as it applies to their activities at the Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, violated their constitutional right to free speech.

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 the plaintiffs’ speech. In January 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling.

On June 24, the U.S Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari and agreed to hear the case.

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