Mass. Gets New Abortion Buffer-Zone Law After SCOTUS Ruling

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on August 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A little more than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts abortion buffer-zone law, Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed a new law limiting protests outside of abortion clinics.

No sooner than the law was signed, opponents and Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley spoke out against it.

Here's what you need to know about the new law, and what lawmakers have to say about it:

McCullen v. Coakley

In McCullen, the U.S. Supreme Court had to determine whether a Massachusetts law providing for a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances, exits, and driveways of reproductive health care facilities was constitutional, or a violation of protesters' First Amendment right to free speech.

On June 26, 2014, Justice Roberts wrote for a unanimous Court and struck down the law as unconstitutional "because it 'burden[s] substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government's legitimate interests,'" since it applied to all protesters.

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The New Law

On Wednesday, July 30, Massachusetts Gov. Patrick signed Senate Bill 2281, the Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, which provides that police officers may "order protesters to move 25 feet (8 meters) away from clinic entrances for eight hours if they block access," reports Reuters.

By only applying to those protesters who are blocking access to clinics, the law is more narrowly tailored than the law that was recently struck down. Indeed, the new law was actually based on other abortion buffer zone laws that have survived legal scrutiny, according to Reuters.

In a statement, Gov. Patrick stated:

I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm.

Criticisms and Potential Litigation

As expected, the new law is not short of critics. McCullen's attorney Michael DePrimo stated that he would "closely monitor" how the new law is enforced, stating, "If they misapply the law in such a way to infringe on First Amendment rights, then certainly we'll consider filing a new lawsuit," reports the Boston Herald. Joining the chorus, Cardinal Sean O'Malley stated, "The effect [of the new law] again is to make it very difficult for citizens seeking to offer alternatives to women contemplating an abortion."

Whether the new law will be challenged depends on how it is enforced, but if we had to bet, all bets would be on a definite legal challenge.

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