On June 26, 2014 The Supreme Court of the United States announced a unanimous decision declaring the Massachusetts buffer zone law unconstitutional. This is an enormous victory for pro-life free speech, and a tribute to the endurance of the McCullen petitioners, their counsel, and all of their supporters!
In 2007, Massachusetts amended the 2000 Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act, making it a crime to knowingly stand on a public way or sidewalk within 35-feet of an entrance or driveway to reproductive healthcare facilities (where abortions are performed). Employees of the healthcare facilities were exempted from the prohibitive aspects of the law.
Petitioners Eleanor McCullen and other sidewalk counselors, over the course of the past seven years, have challenged the amended buffer zone law. They have pursued defense of their constitutional rights, despite having been twice rejected at both the District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Today, their perseverance was rewarded; the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decisions of the lower courts and held that the buffer zone law violates the petitioners’ First Amendment rights.
The Court held that the buffer zone law, failing to meet the “narrowly tailored” constitutional standard, burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. Acknowledging the Commonwealth’s significant interests in maintaining public safety and preserving access to healthcare facilities, it declared that the Commonwealth had pursued those interests by “an extreme step” and without seriously addressing alternative methods which would leave the public forum “open for its time-honored purposes.”
The Court stated that the buffer zones “impose serious burdens on petitioners’ speech,” and have “clearly taken their toll.” Pro-lifers know that these unconstitutional impositions, for the past seven years, have prevented vulnerable women from receiving the loving communication which had previosuly helped them discern helpful health decisions. Sidewalk counselors can once again engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about pro-life alternatives.
Congratulations again to the McCullen petitioners, their counsel, and all of their supporters!