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High Court to weigh abortion clinic buffers

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted an appeal of a Massachusetts law that restricts pro-life advocates from standing within 35 feet of an abortion clinic.

A federal appeals court in January upheld the abortion clinic buffer zone law, saying it protected the rights of patients while also ensuring pro-life advocates could exercise their First Amendment rights.

An attorney for the seven Massachusetts residents challenging the 2007 law, though, said it’s nearly impossible for pro-life advocates to speak with women entering a clinic from such a distance.

Life Legal Defense Foundation, which filed a friend of the court brief arguing the buffer zone is unconstitutional, said it was “delighted that the Court is going to weigh in on this clear case of viewpoint discrimination.”

“Activists who make disturbances at military funerals, animal rights protests, and ‘occupy’ demonstrations are not bound by the sort of restrictions applied to peaceful pro-life witnesses who invite women to learn about abortion alternatives,” Dana Cody, the foundation’s executive director, said after the Supreme Court reported June 24 it would hear the case. “It’s a true double standard and an unbelievable violation of First Amendment rights.”

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, in its decision, compared pro-life speech to sexually-oriented businesses by saying just as adult bookstores and theaters have harmful “secondary effects” that allow cities to impose special zoning restrictions, pro-life sidewalk counseling and picketing have harmful “secondary effects.”

“In fact, what governments most fear about pro-life speech is not any ‘secondary effect,'” Cody said in a news release. “It is that women heading into clinics are hearing the truth about abortion.”

Cody noted that San Francisco, Chicago and other cities also have imposed similar laws to restrict pro-life speech and should take notice that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

“We are optimistic that the court will not only strike down the Massachusetts law but also revisit some of its own prior precedents that have led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection,” Cody said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office has defended the law, said in a statement, according to Boston.com, “The Massachusetts buffer zone law strikes the appropriate balance to ensure a woman’s right to safe access to health care facilities while preserving First Amendment rights. We look forward to defending this vitally important legislation before the Supreme Court.”

Oral arguments in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, are expected next year.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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