SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zones'

Posted: Jan 15, 2014 2:30 PM

Editor's note: This post was co-authored by Townhall web editor Christine Rousselle.

A 2007 Massachusetts law stops pro-life activists 35 feet short of abortion clinic entrances. Because of the enforced distance, they often have to shout to get their message across to the scared young women walking into Planned Parenthood to have abortions — not exactly a winning strategy. McCullen v. Coakley, the case that enforces the unfair limit on pro-lifers' free speech, was center stage at the Supreme Court today.

Justices listened to oral argument this morning after deciding to hear the case in June. SCOTUSblog outlined what’s at stake:

Issue: (1) Whether the First Circuit erred in upholding Massachusetts’s selective exclusion law – which makes it a crime for speakers other than clinic “employees or agents . . . acting within the scope of their employment” to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of “a reproductive health care facility” – under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on its face and as applied to petitioners; (2) whether, if Hill v. Colorado permits enforcement of this law, Hill should be limited or overruled.

Two changes to the Court since 2000 - the last time the court ruled on anti-abortion demonstrations outside clinics - gives pro-lifers some hope for a more positive outcome this time around. Four of the Justices who were in the six-to-three majority 13 years ago have left the Court and been replaced, and the Court has become more sensitive to First Amendment rights. Will it make a difference?

On Tuesday, The New York Times editorial board made it clear whose side they’re on. While at times they admitted buffer zones should apply to both pro-life and pro-choice activists, the editors eventually clarified who they thought was the true victim in this case:

While that is the legal question before the court, the broader issue at stake is protecting women’s access to abortion, which is under assault around the country by lawmakers and protesters alike.

No, what's “under assault” is lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen. The New York Times published this condescending portrayal of the pro-life activist, describing how she likes to “stake out” a spot in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston to counsel young women to keep their babies, but she has to “watch her step” not to put one foot over the yellow line that signifies the beginning of the Massachusetts buffer zone. The editors mention “she had persuaded more than 80 women not to have abortions.” By “persuading" women "not to have abortions," I think they meant she "saved 80 lives."

McCullen v. Coakley is significant in that it involves life and death situations, but Lila Rose, president of the pro-life organization Live Action, pointed out the case in question could also have an impact on the First Amendment:

“Though the Massachusetts law in question certainly has to do with abortion, and the risk to thousands of innocent human lives is severe, this is a First Amendment issue first and foremost. The Constitution of the United States does not become void as one gets close to an abortion facility.

Because the case concerns basic American freedoms, the pro-life activists have gained support from labor union organizations who want to protect the right to picket, religious organizations and a dozen states.

Christine was on the Supreme Court steps today as the oral arguments got underway. Here’s what she saw:

"A small crowd of people in support of the buffer zone law carried signs proclaiming they were 'pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-choice,' while two others had signs that stated their support for free speech and the Bible. Overall, the scene was relatively calm, and the pro-buffer zone crowd had largely dispersed around 10:45 a.m."

 photo f5b40d6d-63bd-4c1f-b519-9bd48705ea7a_zps5a2b4849.jpg

“Pro-faith, pro-family and pro-choice.” One of these things is not like the others. Hopefully the Supreme Court will understand that too. If today is any indication, things are looking up for pro-lifers and their lifesaving talking points.

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