Free Speech on Trial: Opponents in the Pro-Life/Pro-Death Debate Spar Over Free Speech

An age-old tactic in a political debate involves the use of law to shut down opposing views. Pro-life advocates have been the subject of numerous laws aimed at keeping the message of life out of the view of the public.

This week, Jurist, a website that provides coverage of the relevant legal issues of the day, published an article by Life Legal Defense Foundation’s Legal Director, Katie Short. The article provides insights into the upcoming decision in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, and represents the balance to an article appearing February 10, 2014 on the other side of the debate written by Stephanie Toti of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

From Ms. Short’s article, titled McCullen v. Coakley: History in the Making:

When the state of Massachusetts came before the US Supreme Court to defend its abortion clinic buffer zone law in McCullen v. Coakley, one would have expected it to rely heavily on the most recent Supreme Court decision in this area of the law, Hill v. Colorado. In Hill, the court upheld a Colorado law prohibiting unconsented approaches within eight feet of any person located within 100 feet of medical facility entrances, for the purpose of leafleting, protest, education, or counseling. Although the statute applied to all medical facilities, it was widely understood to be targeted at anti-abortion speakers, and, indeed, many similar “bubble zone” laws enacted post-Hill apply only outside abortion clinics.

However, rather than attempting to align its law prohibiting “entering or remaining” within thirty-five feet of abortion clinic entrances and driveways with Hill’s endorsement of a governmental interest in protecting patients from “unwanted speech,” Massachusetts vigorously denied any similarity between the two cases and disclaimed any interest in shielding unwilling listeners.

Ms. Short’s expert analysis of the free speech rights of pro-life advocates is rooted in decades of work defending pro-life advocates as they share an unpopular message in public fora, such as sidewalks and street corners. Notably, Ms. Short led the LLDF team in defending Walter Hoye, who was targeted for his pro-life advocacy in Oakland, CA.

On the other side of the debate, Ms. Toti, as a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, supports this type of limitation on the rights of pro-life advocates, arguing that the Massachusetts law, and others like it, should be considered constitutional because of a purported history of bad acts by pro-life advocates.

As we await the Court’s decision, we commend these two articles as a fascinating read on the opposing positions in this legal and cultural debate. To read Ms. Short’s article, click here.

To read Ms. Toti’s opposing opinion, urging the affirmation of Massachusetts’ bubble zone law, click here.