First Amendment

Abortion Clinics' Buffer Zones Affirmed by Federal Appeals Court

A federal appeals court has for the fourth time in 12 years affirmed a law creating buffer zones around Massachusetts abortion clinics.

The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-0 ruling (PDF) Wednesday, said the law protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without infringing on the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion protesters, the Boston Globe reports.

The law creates a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around the entrances, exits and driveways of abortion clinics. Its constitutionality had been challenged by seven people who regularly engage in anti-abortion protesting outside of the clinics.

The court has twice upheld an earlier version of the law, in 2001 and again in 2004. The current version of the law was previously upheld in 2009.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the court said the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter health care facilities cannot seriously be questioned. It called the law “a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office defended the law, said in a statement that she is pleased the court has once again upheld the use of buffer zones around abortion clinics, which she said provide safe access to reproductive health care facilities while preserving freedom of expression.

But Mark L. Rienzi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he expected the ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The same rules have to apply to all speakers,” Rienzi said in a statement. “The government cannot put peaceful pro-life speakers in jail, but give Planned Parenthood free rein on the same sidewalk.”

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