Supreme Court Leaves Standing Massachusetts Law Restricting Pro-Life Speech

On Monday, the Supreme Court turned away an appeal from sidewalk counselors in Massachusetts challenging a law that prevents them from offering assistance to abortion-bound women.

The case, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 09-592, began in 2007, when Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting “entering or remaining” within 35 feet of abortion clinic entrances. The law contains exceptions for patients, clinic employees, and persons merely passing through the zone to get to another destination. The undisputed target of the bill was pro-life sidewalk counselors who attempt to bring their life-affirming message directly to women seeking abortions.

The law was challenged in federal court, but both the District Court and the First Circuit ruled the law constitutional. By Monday’s order, the Supreme Court leaves the First Circuit’s ruling in place.

LLDF filed an amicus brief urging the Court to take the case. LLDF’s brief, filed on behalf of itself and Pastor Walter Hoye, takes issue with speech restrictions targeted at locales associated with particular issues, such as abortion. These restrictions, the brief says, are de facto content and viewpoint based laws and thus inconsistent with the First Amendment.

LLDF Legal Director Katie Short expressed disappointment that the Court will not take up the case. “It’s been ten years since the Court’s disastrous 6-3 decision in Hill v. Colorado, giving the green light to laws restricting speech outside clinics,” Short said. “Since then, three of the justices in the majority have been replaced. The Court should have taken this case to begin the process of restoring the free speech rights of pro-life advocates to make their case at Ground Zero in the abortion debate: the clinics themselves.”

Read the brief as submitted to the Court here

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