WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pro-life groups hailed today's 9-0 Supreme Court decision striking down a Massachusetts law that barred sidewalk counselors from standing within 35 feet of abortion facilities.
“We know that peaceful sidewalk counseling saves lives and helps mothers-in-crisis, because we have the testimonies of these mothers and children to prove it.”
“The court is finally seeing through the real motivation behind these buffer zones,” said Dana Cody, president and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “It isn’t to protect anyone; it is to silence the truth about abortion – that it ends the lives of children and harms women. Roe made abortion legal, not safe.”
Lauren Muzyka, executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, said the plaintiff, Eleanor McCullen, “was one of those heroes who was simply doing her best to help women-in-need. We know that peaceful sidewalk counseling saves lives and helps mothers-in-crisis, because we have the testimonies of these mothers and children to prove it.”
The state law – proposed in 2007 by Martha “Marty” Walz, who now works for the state's Planned Parenthood affiliate – forbade pro-life speech but allowed abortion escorts to speak to women as they walked them in to see an abortionist. The Supreme Court did not rule against that provision but said the state law was not “narrowly tailored” enough to pass constitutional muster.
“Today's unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court, striking down the buffer zone law in Massachusetts, is a victory for free speech in America,” said Judie Brown, president of American Life League.
“The abortion industry in the United States thrives because it continually lies to women,” Brown said. “Sidewalk counselors are able to change minds and hearts by simply offering help to women in crisis situations.”
Brown said laws like this one are favored by “desperate abortionists trying to protect their businesses and their income by restricting the First Amendment rights of peaceful, prayerful people-whose only goal is to help the mother and save the child from a gruesome death.”
“Crisis pregnancy counselors are heroes.”
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League questioned the ACLU's decision to file a brief supporting neither side of the case. “Every 10 years or so it finds a few neo-Nazis or Klansmen to defend, and then convinces elites that it is a champion of free speech. But it takes no courage to defend crackpots who pose no real threat to our liberties,” he said. “A better test would be for the rabidly pro-abortion ACLU to defend the free speech rights of pro-life advocates. Again and again, it fails to do so.”
Some echoed the Supreme Court's positive assessment that pro-life advocates engage in “caring, consensual conversations” with pregnant women and offer struggling mothers “an outstretched arm” of support.
“Crisis pregnancy counselors are heroes,” said Horatio Mihet, vice president of legal affairs at Liberty Counsel. “Dedicated to defending the preborn and helping women, they spend their lives standing on sidewalks offering help to women who are alone and afraid. This decision affirms the life-saving work of those counselors, and the women and children they support.”
“Women and their babies benefit from hearing there are alternatives to abortion when they feel they are in crisis,” said Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association.
Legal analysts say the ruling will make legislators think twice about passing similar laws in their states or cities. O. Carter Snead, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, called the decision “a narrow but important victory” that allows counselors “to convey peacefully the core message of the pro life movement to women considering abortion, namely, 'We love you, we love your unborn child, and we're here to help.'” Proposals to “impose draconian restraints on this type of interaction on public streets and sidewalks are unconstitutional and cannot stand,” he said. He called the decision “a unanimous rebuke to state legislatures around the country who might be considering such misguided and unconstitutional laws.”
Others said the ruling should be applied to strike down existing anti-speech laws. Three states and numerous cities have similar “buffer zones” around abortion facilities. Portland, Maine, requires a 39-foot zone; Burlington, Vermont, has a 35-foot zone; and San Francisco requires pro-life supporters to stand 25 feet away from abortion office entrances.
Matt Sande, the legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said, “Buffer zone laws are yet another attempt by pro-abortion supporters to silence pro-life people who are offering what may be a mother’s only exposure to a message of love and life for her and her preborn child.”
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Until the tension is resolved, pro-life speech will still be threatened, its supporters say.
“Confusing, erratically enforced bubble zone laws remain on the books in many places,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. “Even with today's victory, freedom of speech by pro-life advocates is not yet fully protected.”
“Today's decision is a victory for all sidewalk counselors everywhere, and we look forward to First Amendment rights being restored in every jurisdiction where such overreaching laws exist,” Muzyka said.
Cody said LLDF will continue to pursue cases that “violate the rights of sidewalk counselors to communicate their life-affirming message to desperate women who think abortion is their only choice.”