Buffer Zone Law heads to Supreme Court

martha coakley boston
Attorney General Martha Coakley is named as the defendant of the state’s law that created a buffer zone around the entrances of abortion clinics.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments about the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law.

McCullen v. Coakley is a challenge to the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law, which creates a 35-foot, content-neutral buffer zone around the entrance to abortion clinics. In effect since 2007, advocates of the law say it protects women’s access to health care, while still allowing anti-abortion activists to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest.

But anti-abortion activists say that abolishing the law would give them a greater opportunity to encourage women to avoid terminating their pregnancies. The Life Legal Defense Fund says the high court’s decision has a great potential to even the playing field and affirm the rights of anti-abortion advocates to use public streets and sidewalks for free speech activities.

The law was partially inspired by the brutal 1994 murders of two Boston-area abortion clinic employees. Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, both receptionists, were shot to death by John Salvi at two different area abortion clinics in Brookline and Boston.

Reproductive rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts said in a statement on the anniversary of the shooting that the Buffer Zone Law is vital for the safety of women.

“Women should not have to undergo herculean efforts to access basic health care,” the statement reads. “The physical intimidation and harassment that women experience outside of clinics prevents women from seeking medical care from reputable practitioners. Since the passage of the buffer zone, clinics in Massachusetts have not seen a decrease in protesters, but have seen a dramatic decrease in violence and intimidation of women entering clinics.”

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