Supreme Court to Hear Arguments Against 'Buffer Free Zones' at Mass. Abortion Clinics


Tuesday, January 14, 2014
January 13, 2014|4:52 pm

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear oral arguments challenging a 2007 Massachusetts law that prohibits pro-life advocates from approaching abortion clinic workers and potential clients past a regulated "buffer zone."

Currently, pro-life advocates are barred from standing within 35 feet of the front door of abortion clinics in Massachusetts. Outside some abortion facilities in the state, a painted yellow line clearly marks the parameters allocated for protesters who face potential arrest if they cross that barrier.

In the case, McCullen v. Coakley, the Court is being asked to decide whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit was right in upholding the state's law that makes it a crime for pro-life advocates to "enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk" within 35 feet of an entrance, exit or driveway to an abortion facility.

Eleanor McCullen, 77, and other pro-life advocates filed the lawsuit against the state because at Planned Parenthood locations in Springfield and Worchester, they are unable to make contact with clients because they must stand 35 feet away from the clinics' parking lots.

According to Massachusetts Planned Parenthood CEO Marty Walz, the former state representative who sponsored the "Buffer Zone Law" for Planned Parenthood and was subsequently hired by the abortion provider last year with a salary of $250,000, said the state's law is necessary to protect the rights of clients and the safety of their staff.

Speaking at her Planned Parenthood office in Boston, Walz told WBZ-TV on Friday that "Protesters would typically stand right in the doorway and shoulder to shoulder and it would be difficult for patients and staff to try to squeeze through to get in the door."

With the buffer zone in place, pro-life advocates assert that their First Amendment right to free speech is being inhibited, making it more difficult for them to share their life-saving message with girls seeking abortions.

Lorraine Loewen who protests at a local Boston Planned Parenthood on Fridays, told WBZ-TV that she cannot effectively carry out her right to free speech and attempt to save lives because of the Buffer Zone Law.

"Abortion hurts women," she said. "This is ridiculous here, we are probably the only group that doesn't have freedom of speech."

Liam Lowney, however, supports Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley's effort to protect the Buffer Zone Law because his sister, Shannon, who was a receptionist at Planned Parenthood, was shot and killed inside the Boston abortion clinic in 1994 by John Salvi.

Lowney told WBZ-TV that his sister was passionate about her work at Planned Parenthood because she believed in its mission, and he aims to carry on her efforts.

"I see buffer zones as an important tool in ensuring women access to the important services that were available to them," he said. "That was important to my sister, and so it's important to me to continue that message."

Lawmakers ask Coakley to investigate Planned Parenthood-Walz connection

In a letter sent to Coakley last Thursday, Massachusetts State Reps. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) and James Lyons (R-Andover), are asking the attorney general to investigate Walz's ties to the nation's largest abortion provider since she was a leading sponsor of the abortion clinic Buffer Zone Law and was subsequently hired as its CEO, alleging that it's a violation of the state's conflict-of-interest law.

"The question we are asking is simple. Is there a violation of the conflict-of-interest law when a legislator sponsors a law on behalf of an organization, then that same legislator is hired to a position in that organization that has paid $250,000 per year?" according to their letter to Coakley.

The Court's decision to hear oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley also coincides with Pope Francis' affirmation on Monday that he believes abortion is "horrific."

According to Reuters, in his yearly address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, known as his "State of the World" address, the pope said: "It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day."