Court sick of anti-abortion protesters, once again upholds buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics

A federal appeals court once again upheld efforts by Massachusetts lawmakers to protect patients at abortion clinics and rejected the latest legal challenge by people who say they have a First Amendment right to get in the face of women entering the clinics.

In a decision that drips with the basic sentiment of "enough, already," the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston said that no "creative recalibration of First Amendment principles" will trump the right of patients at clinics in Allston, Worcester and Springfield to safety in their travels and that a state law creating 35-foot wide zones free of people waving giant photos of dead fetuses was legal because it was targeted at all people, not specific groups of loudspeaker-blaring anti-abortion protesters.

Few subjects have proven more controversial in modern times than the issue of abortion. The nation is sharply divided about the morality of the practice and its place in a caring society. But the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter healthcare facilities cannot seriously be questioned. The Massachusetts statute at issue here is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored timeplace- manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others.

The court rejected the argument by the "sidewalk counselors" that the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United overturned the state buffer-zone law, saying the plaintiffs took snippets of that decision out of context and ignored the fact the decision dealt with contributions to political campaigns, not people waving signs reading "They're Killing Babies Here" at women entering clinics. In fact, the court said, the Citizen United decision specifically pointed to abortion-clinic buffer zones as an example of the sort of limits that could be placed on free speech on a public street.

The court also rejected the argument that the buffer zones forced the protesters to change their "up-close, gentle conversations" into screaming matches just to get the attention of the women they want to reach. The court said that at the clinics in question, evidence was ample that anybody entering the clinics would still see the protesters and that nothing was stopping them from engaging in a little caring chatting.

To be sure, the Act curtails the plaintiffs' ability to carry on gentle discussions with prospective patients at a conversational distance, embellished with eye contact and smiles. But as long as a speaker has an opportunity to reach her intended audience, the Constitution does not ensure that she always will be able to employ her preferred method of communication.



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    By on

    I've never actually seen protesters outside the Planned Parenthood on Comm Ave in Allston. Are they actually ever there or do they just happen to take a break whenever I'm walking by?

    I'm guessing you're not around on the weekends?

    By on

    Saturday mornings, my friend. If you're really 'lucky' you can even go around back and get to see protestors wearing "Police" vests videotaping anyone female and in a car who look like they might be trying to park nearby, which makes shopping at Shaw's very special.

    I wish

    By on

    I'm guessing that their defense is that they're just wearing them to show they're "supporters" of the police, and would be shocked, SHOCKED to think anyone would be intimidated or confused by their outfits.

    I think that as long as they don't act like police, and loudly deny being police to anyone who asks them, legally they're in the clear. If just wearing the outfit is illegal then a LOT of people, including and pretty much every t-shirt shop in the DC airports, are in trouble for selling them.


    By on

    Yep, weekends are when the crazies come out. They take up residence at the one on Harvard Ave in Brookline, too. The PP in Brookline is just a couple of blocks from my old apartment, right next to the grocery store I used to shop at. It is... probably for the best that I don't have to walk by this dog & pony show every time I want to buy a loaf of bread, because I could see the ensuing discussion about the nuances of Griswold v. Connecticut ending with my foot lodged somewhere that would require surgical intervention.

    What really amazes me is that they can find enough protesters to keep their numbers up, in a region that I don't think of as having many far-right religious nutjobs. Are they importing them from somewhere? And where are the counter-protesters? I know PP runs escort missions for patients, but I've never seen any large number of people outside protesting against the idiots with dead baby signs. I'd've thought we could make that happen around here.

    They're there at least twice during the week

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    I walk to work right near there and have to walk past them on my way. Trust me, they're there. They were this morning, and often on Fridays. I've gotten really good at turning up the volume in my headphones and, if I'm feeling punchy, the occasional middle finger.

    They are usually there

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    on weekdays, between 9 am and 12 pm. They're senior citizens, so it's an early bird operation.

    My issue with them is not that they oppose abortion and are protesting (I support free speech) but that they are annoying. I've lived in the area for years, and they usually end up protesting at people going to the supermarket, gym, class, or work.

    I don't want to donate to the Red Cross, I don't have a minute for the environment, and I don't want to talk about abortion. I just want to walk on the sidewalk in peace.

    They are there on weekdays

    They are there on weekdays too. I was in on a weekday morning and not only were crusty old dudes with signs outside, there was a lady in a car that had pictures of fetuses and random phrases like "save the babies" taped all over it. If only they put the energy they spend sitting outside Planned Parenthood all day long into feeding the poor or curing cancer, the world might be a better place. Trolls.