Supreme Court Considers Massachusetts Law Securing Women’s Safe Entrance into Reproductive Health Care Facilities

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The Center for Reproductive Rights leads broad coalition 16 of civil rights groups in filing brief in support of state law
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(PRESS RELEASE) The US Supreme Court will hear arguments today about a Massachusetts state law requiring a “buffer zone” around abortion clinics in an effort to secure women’s safe passage into reproductive health care facilities. 

The case—McCullen v. Coakleywas brought by anti-choice advocates and challenges the state law prohibiting any individual from occupying 35 feet around an entrance or driveway of a reproductive health care facility providing abortions.  Massachusetts’ law creates a safe space around reproductive health care facilities, while continuing to respect the rights of anti-choice protesters to distribute literature or engage in conversation with whomever they choose outside that space. 

Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Laws securing women’s safe passage into reproductive health care facilities are part of a long tradition of government action aimed at safeguarding the exercise of fundamental rights—like voting, going to school, and attending religious services—from interference by third-parties.

“Just like buffer zones around polling locations protect voters from intimidation by political workers, buffer zones around reproductive health care facilities protect women from harassment, threats, or violence by those opposed to reproductive rights.

“The nation’s highest court should uphold this clearly constitutional law, as all levels of government have long recognized the importance of ensuring that individuals – in this case women and their reproductive health care providers - are able to exercise their fundamental rights without intimidation, obstruction, or harassment.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights led a coalition of 16 civil rights organizations in submitting an amicus curiae brief in support of the Massachusetts law.  The amici, comprised of a wide range of prominent and diverse civil rights organizations, have “a vital interest in ensuring that the government is able to protect individuals seeking to exercise their fundamental rights from interference by third-parties.”

Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, reproductive health care facilities throughout the United States have regularly been targets of violence and other criminal activities by anti-abortion extremists.  Buffer zones have proven to be effective in reducing the very real threats of violence and intimidation that abortion providers and their patients face every day—including doctors and clinic staff who have been threatened with harm, and facilities which have been bombed, burned down, and blockaded.  In fact, law enforcement officers in Massachusetts favor the buffer zone law, citing its effectiveness in curbing violence and maintaining public safety outside of reproductive health care facilities.