For Immediate Release - July 16, 2014

AG Coakley Urges Passage of Bill Enhancing Safe Access to Reproductive Health Centers

At Legislative Hearing, AG Coakley Urges Swift Passage of Bill to Ensure Public Safety and Access after Supreme Court Overturned Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law

BOSTON – Urging for the swift passage of a bill that provides safe access for those seeking reproductive health care services, Attorney General Martha Coakley today testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities.

Filed on Monday, the legislation provides a narrowly-tailored approach to securing access for patients and clinic staff and maintaining public safety at these facilities in response to the United State Supreme Court decision striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone law.

“The passage of this bill is our opportunity, as a Commonwealth, to demonstrate leadership on this critical issue,” AG Coakley said. “No woman should face intimidation or threats when trying to access reproductive health care services. The Supreme Court should not have the final word. We should have the final word in protecting this access, and I urge the Legislature to pass these common-sense provisions before the end of the session.”

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision reversing a lower court ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, and held that the Massachusetts buffer zone law was unconstitutional. The 2007 law established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone to protect the safety of patients and staff at reproductive health care centers.

On Monday, in response to that decision, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM), AG Coakley, Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, and Senator Harriette L. Chandler announced the filing of An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities.

In her testimony today before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, AG Coakley outlined how the bill enhances existing laws and creates new ones to address public safety concerns, while at the same time meeting the legal standards established in the Supreme Court’s opinion. The bill complies with the free speech protections of the First Amendment, and ensures safety and access for all members of the public, including patients and staff.

“This bill is an important and clearly constitutional way of protecting women and reproductive health care facilities, while still allowing freedom of speech,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “The Supreme Court in its decision in McCullen v. Coakley expressly said that state and local governments may adopt laws protecting access to reproductive health care facilities. That is exactly what this law does and it will provide important additional protections to ensure access to and safety of reproductive health care facilities.”

In her testimony, AG Coakley emphasized the need to expand the tools that law enforcement can use to maintain public safety outside reproductive health centers. The bill addresses this need by prohibiting certain conduct that threatens public safety and access to reproductive health care facilities. Specifically, the bill ensures that patients and staff members have clear access to and from a facility by authorizing law enforcement officials to issue dispersal orders, and prohibiting injury and intimidation outside clinics. The bill also prohibits recklessly interfering with the operation of a vehicle that attempts to enter, exit, or park at a facility.

At the hearing, AG Coakley also stressed the importance of pursuing civil actions to compel and ensure compliance with the law. The bill enhances the ability of private parties and the Attorney General to enforce these laws in civil proceedings, by including provisions that largely mirror the civil remedies available under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and by enhancing the remedies available under the existing Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA).