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Massachusetts: Did You Know?

Did you know that a state law protecting access to abortion services has been upheld in Massachusetts?

In November 2007, Massachusetts enacted a law that provides a thirty-five foot "buffer zone" around reproductive health care facilities.  This is the largest buffer zone ever passed by state legislation, and helps ensure that women seeking reproductive health care services will not be intimidated or harassed by anti-choice protestors.  In signing the law, Gov. Deval Patrick stated that the new law "strikes an appropriate balance between the freedom of choice and the freedom of expression."

Anti-choice advocates immediately threatened to challenge the law, and did so in January 2008.  Claiming that the thirty-five foot buffer zone violates their free speech rights, five anti-choice protestors filed suit in a federal district court in Boston.

The named defendant in the suit, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, fought back to protect the law.  She stated that the "buffer zone statute is an important change to the law and enhances public safety and access to medical facilities."  In August 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts upheld the facial constitutionality of the statute, and denied the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.  The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in July 2009, and the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to this decision in 2010.

S.B 1353, 185th Gen. Court, Reg. Sess. (Mass. 2007) (codifed at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 120E.5); Lisa Wangsness, New Law Expands Abortion Buffer Zone, Boston Globe, Nov. 14, 2007; Jason Szep, Massachusetts Moves to Protect Abortion Clinics, Reuters, Nov. 13, 2007; Complaint, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 1:08-cv-10066-JLT (D. Mass. filed Jan. 16, 2008; order denying preliminary and permanent injunction filed Aug. 22, 2008); Martin Finucane, Clinic Buffer Zones Face Legal Challenge, Boston Globe, Jan. 19, 2008; Defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 1:08-cv-10066-JLT (D. Mass. filed Feb. 20, 2008); Press Release, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General Martha Coakley Opposes Challenge to Buffer Zone Law (Feb. 20, 2008); Megan Woolhouse, AG Backs Abortion Buffer Zone, Boston Globe, Feb. 21, 2008; Martin Finucane, Abortion Clinic Buffer Law Upheld, Boston Globe, Jul. 10, 2009; High Court Stays Out of Mass. Abortion Clinic Case, Assoc. Press, Mar. 22, 2010.

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