From the first rallying cry for the colonies to separate from Great Britain, to the abolition of slavery, to the civil rights movement—and beyond—the importance of the freedom of speech has been affirmed again and again throughout our nation’s history. Currently, the battle for freedom of speech is being waged at abortion clinics (so-called “reproductive health services” clinics). As LLDF has reported previously, the ability of pro-life advocates to share a message of hope with women on their way to abortion clinics has been threatened by numerous anti-free speech laws that are springing up throughout the nation.
One such law is being challenged at the United States Supreme Court in the case McCullen v. Coakley. Pro-life advocates in Massachusetts are challenging the state’s buffer zone law that prohibits pro-life speech activities within 35 feet of the entrances to abortion clinics. The law makes it virtually impossible for a sidewalk counselor to approach a woman and hand her literature near the entrance to a clinic—even on the public sidewalk.
Numerous individuals, organizations and even state attorneys general have recognized the importance of the free speech implications of McCullen. In fact, sixteen amicus briefs have been filed in support of the petitioners arguing for reversal of the First Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision which upheld the repressive law.
The number and diversity of the friend-of-the-court briefs filed in this case underscore the importance of the issues presented. In addition to Life Legal Defense Foundation’s brief, others were filed by numerous pro-life organizations including 40 Days for Life, American Center for Law and Justice, and Americans United for Life, among others. But other entities concerned with free speech in a broader context also filed in support. For example, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, filed briefs in support of the petitioners. The state of Michigan filed a brief in support that was joined by the attorneys general for eleven other states (Alabama, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, and West Virginia). A collection of law professors filed in support, as did a group of twelve courageous women who wish they had had better information prior to their abortions. Finally, while not specifically aimed at supporting the pro-life petitioners, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief arguing inter alia that the case should be remanded for further consideration as to whether there are actually adequate alternative channels of communication available for speakers at specific locations impacted by the statute.
Concerned citizens generally, and pro-life advocates particularly, ought to pay close attention to this case as it will have a direct impact on our ability to freely communicate and debate in the public square.