Pro-family activism that makes a difference!


US Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Mass. abortion clinic Buffer Zone law

Pro-family lawyers bring big defeat to abortion movement

POSTED: June 26, 2014

On Thursday, June 26 the US Supreme Court ruling on McCullen v Coakley unanimously overturned the odious Massachusetts abortion clinic Buffer Zone law. It was a stunning victory after years of suffering painful losses in the lower courts. In effect, it also overturns nearly all the other “buffer zone” laws across America.

The Massachusetts buffer zone law required people with a pro-life message to stay at least 35 feet from the entrance to an abortion clinic, even if that included a public sidewalk or street. But pro-abortion people affiliated with the abortion clinics could get as close as they wanted.

Pro-lifers stand behind yellow line 35 feet from abortion clinic entrance as uniformed Planned Parenthood guard (left) watches.
[Photo: Operation Rescue Boston]

Big loss for pro-abortion liberals

As we pointed out in our analysis of this case back in January when the arguments were made before the Court, many people across the political spectrum thought this challenge had a good chance of winning. The “buffer zone” is one of those totalitarian and clearly unconstitutional dictats that liberals in power proclaim and just assume they can get away with – and usually do in the pliant lower courts. But even stacked with Obama appointees, the Supreme Court turned out to be a different beast.

Attorney Philip Moran stands outside US Supreme Court with lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen, a longtime pro-life sidewalk counselor.

Other attorneys who worked tirelessly on this include Michael DePrimo and Mark Rienzi.


No one dreamed it would be such an overwhelming victory. The ruling came as a shock to both  sides because it was unanimous, 9-0. When doctrinaire leftists like Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor rule against you, as a liberal you know you’re in trouble. It’s a particular blow to Massachusetts Democrats in the Legislature, and Attorney General Martha Coakley, who arrogantly supported this.

Read the text of the ruling here

Everything was lined up for a victory

How did it happen? Basically, our side did things right (for a change) and the other side did things very badly. And the Court was not in the mood to pander to the Left on this free-speech issue.

In our view there were three major reasons this won:

  1. Our side forcefully and successfully argued that the law was an effort to silence a viewpoint that the government does not like, but had nothing to do with “safety” (as they argued) or any other reasonable objection.  On the same public sidewalk, the law said one type of speech was allowed but opposing speech was prohibited. That point was articulated very well by our side and was drilled over and over.
  2. The main argument of the pro-abortion side was that there were constant acts of intimidation, blocking of entrances, threats, and violence by “anti-choice zealots” that required the protection of a buffer zone. They repeated that constantly. But as we pointed out, that was all lies. They could not document a single incident that they claimed happened. Even though there are security cameras at every abortion clinic, they could not produce a single video, nor did police have any record of an arrest for such crimes. Thus, the Court could not buy the arguments for the law, and added that “safety” issues could be addressed through normal legal channels without needing to stifle free speech.
  3. The Supreme Court has a long record of snubbing liberals on important First Amendment cases. From the South Boston St. Patrick Day Parade case in the 1990s (where the Court rightly ruled that the parade could exclude homosexual groups if they wish) to the more recent Citizens United case (allowing private groups to spend more freely to promote political candidates), the Court is zealous in protecting First Amendment rights no matter who doesn’t like it. (We only wish they felt the same way about the Second, Fourth, and Tenth Amendments!)

Back doing God's work. In this photo, taken in early June, Eleanor McCullen talks to a woman who had been inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. The woman subsequently decided not to have an abortion. It was the 32nd baby saved this year by Operation Rescue Boston!
[Photo: Operation Rescue Boston]

What the ruling does not cover

Montana and Colorado both have statewide buffer zone laws, and many cities and towns across the country have passed municipal buffer zone laws similar to the Massachusetts law. Those will likely be covered by this ruling almost immediately.

However, the ruling specifically does not address the “floating bubble” zones, such as a 6-foot prohibited area around any client entering or leaving an abortion clinic. Originally, Massachusetts and Colorado had these, but they were difficult to enforce so they were replaced by buffer zones. A few places around the country still do have them. Nevertheless, it’s very likely that the “viewpoint discrimination” part of the ruling will be successfully used against these in lower courts to strike them down, too.

The ruling also does not overturn the part of the law that makes blocking the doors, intimidation, or similar acts illegal. But our side was not challenging that.

MassResistance also vindicated by ruling

In addition to the legal challenge, MassResistance has consistently been putting pressure on the Legislature about the unconstitutionality of this law. In the last three sessions of the Massachusetts Legislature, MassResistance has filed bills to repeal it. Currently, it is Bill H1478. Other pro-family and pro-life groups usually refused to support it, apparently feeling it was a waste of time. But we believe in constantly pressuring the Left on critical issues and we'll continue to do so if they try to somehow replace the buffer zone law.

Abortion forces say they’re not giving up

Despite the strong free speech message this ruling brings, abortion proponents are obsessed with stopping the pro-life message and they say they are not giving up. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who passionately defended this law in this case (and who is currently running for Governor of Massachusetts), has said she will try to craft a new law that somehow will pass legal muster.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley spends a lot of time and energy supporting radical causes that are out of the mainstream.
[MassResistance photo]

Nor is Coakley backing off from her broken-record “safety” argument that the Supreme Court utterly rejected. After the ruling was announced, she told the Boston Globe:

“We are not going to give up our fight to make sure women have safe access to reproductive health care. We will utilize all of the tools we have available to protect everyone from harassment, threats, and physical obstruction. I will work with the Governor, Legislature and advocates to explore additional legislative tools that also meet the court’s requirements.”

And the rest of the abortion lobby commented with the same tired rhetoric. As the Globe  reported:

Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said the decision marked a “giant step back” in protecting women.

“This decision ignores the very real violence that still occurs at abortion clinics. It disrespects the community right here in Boston that was violated by an armed zealot just 20 years ago,” she said, referring to a 1994 case in which two people were killed at clinics in Brookline. “The buffer zone did exactly what it was intended to do: it prevented violence at clinics while allowing anti-choice protesters to express their views.”

It’s starting to sound like a lot of hot air. Our prediction is that the Massachusetts Legislature will wisely back off and not revisit this.

It’s a great victory for justice and life! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard on this.

These pro-life counselors were forced to stand behind a police blockade.
That won't happen anymore! [Photo: Operation Rescue Boston]