District court upholds Massachusetts law mandating abortion protester 'buffer zone'

[JURIST] US District Judge Joseph Tauro [official profile] held [PDF text] Friday that a Massachusetts statute [text] establishing a 35-foot buffer zone outside facilities which perform abortions [JURIST news archive] does not violate protesters' constitutional rights. Tauro found that the law does not unconstitutionally burden First Amendment rights or the guarantees of equal protection or due process. In upholding the statute as a valid time, place and manner regulation of speech, Tauro wrote:

[T]he law does not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further these public safety goals. ... "[T]he government is not required to choose the least restrictive approach in content-neutral regulation." Here, the Legislature appears to have carefully considered and balanced the Act's effects on speech with the Commonwealth's legitimate governmental interests. The result was a 35-foot fixed buffer zone that targeted the problematic areas (areas immediately adjacent to [clinic] entrances and driveways), during the problematic times.
Tauro noted that other federal courts, including the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive], have upheld similar fixed buffer zones.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill amending the statute [JURIST report] last year, substituting the fixed buffer zone for a "floating" one that prohibited protesters from coming within six feet of other individuals without their consent. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official website] defended the law on Monday, saying it protects public safety and ensures access to medical care while preserving alternate opportunities for expression. She commented [press release; AP report], "The previous buffer zone statute was a step in the right direction, but was difficult, if not impossible, to enforce."


 

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