US Supreme Court Upholds Massachusetts Abortion Mill Buffer Zone

Wed Apr 20, 2005 - 12:15 pm EST

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2005 ( – The US Supreme Court Tuesday maintained a lower court ruling, upholding the Massachusetts law forbidding pro-life protesters from counseling outside abortuaries within the state.

In 2000, the commonwealth created a so-called buffer law forbidding pro-lifers from approaching within six feet of anyone within 18 feet of an abortuary. Pro-life groups had challenged the law as being an unconstitutional infringement on first amendment rights to free speech. The law forbids anyone from approaching someone entering an abortuary “for the purpose of passing a leaflet . . . or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling.”

In 2000, after pro-life groups challenged the law as unconstitutional, US District Judge Edward F. Harrington agreed, saying, “Pro-life advocates who firmly believe that abortion remains a grave moral evil must be given as equal an opportunity as their opponents to express . . . their sincere message of respect for the sanctity of innocent human life . . . The First Amendment requires no less.”

A federal appeals court in 2001 overturned the original decision, ruling that the buffer zone does not violate the free speech rights of protesters. Pro-life counselors appealed the decision in a federal appeals court in September.

Attorney for pro-life sidewalk counselors, Mark Rienzi, argued that the law is discriminatory against his clients, because abortion clinic workers regularly approach clients as they enter the clinics, saying, “Don’t listen to them and come with us.”

“The statute allows clinic speakers to tell patients to come into the clinic and not listen to pro-lifers, but if a pro-lifer offers information about alternatives, such as adoption or free medical care, they can go to jail,” Rienzi said, as reported by “The First Amendment is supposed to stop that kind of discrimination.”

Read related coverage:
Bubble Zone Law Ruled Unconstitutional In Massachusetts


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