U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Massachusetts Buffer Law – Victory for Free Speech!

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that created 35-foot no-entry zones around the entrances and driveways of abortion clinics in that state. The law made it a crime to “enter or remain” within the zone, unless one fell under one of the four exemptions for patients, clinic employees, public safety officials, and persons passing through the zone without stopping.

The Court affirmed the time-honored nature of public streets and sidewalks as public fora, and held that the Massachusetts law was not narrowly tailored to meet the government’s asserted interests. The Court made clear that requiring peaceful sidewalk counselors to remain 35 feet from their intended audience is too burdensome of their rights, and is not justified by any evidence of unlawfulness on the part of the pro-life speakers.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court with Justices Scalia and Alito writing separate concurring opinions, in which they urged that the Court might have gone farther in affirming and protecting free speech rights.

From the majority opinion in McCullen v. Coakley: “The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests.” The case was reversed and remanded back to the First Circuit for further proceedings.

“We are gratified that the Court saw how wrong the Massachusetts law is,” said Dana Cody, President and Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “And while we wish the decision had recognized the content-restrictions inherent in this type of law, this decision is truly a victory for courageous, compassionate sidewalk counselors in Massachusetts who have saved hundreds of lives through their quiet outreach offering help and alternatives to women. The purpose of this law was to silence the truth about abortion – it ends the lives of children and harms women. Roe made abortion legal, not safe. With this ruling, pro-life speakers will be enabled to share their life-affirming message.”