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Abortion Clinics And Buffer Zones

The 35-foot buffer zone line painted around a Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, MA. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

The 35-foot buffer zone line painted around a Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, MA. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

In 1994, John Salvi III shot and killed two abortion clinic workers and wounded five others during attacks on two separate Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline.

In response to those attacks, the Legislature passed a law that created a 6-foot floating buffer zone around patients and an 18-foot buffer around clinic entrances.

In 2007, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill that created a firm 35-foot buffer zone around entrances, exits and driveways of abortion providers.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to that law, brought by abortion opponents who claim that the buffer zone infringes on their right to free speech.


Martha Davis, law professor at Northeastern University.

Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. The group’s amicus brief filed in the case is here.


WBUR ” The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to reconsider the constitutionality of a 2007 Massachusetts law that bars protests within 35 feet of abortion clinic entrances, exits and driveways. The justices agreed Monday to hear an appeal from abortion opponents who want the law thrown out, saying it violates their free speech rights.”

SCOTUS Blog “This is a potentially significant case regarding the free speech rights afforded to abortion protesters.  In Hill, the Court affirmed the constitutionality, by a vote of six to three, of a Colorado law that made it illegal for protesters to approach within eight feet of anyone within one hundred feet of a health-care facility for the purpose of counseling, educating, or protesting.”

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  • J__o__h__n

    If you can’t have campaign signs within 150 feet of a polling place during an election, I don’t see how there is a right to protest within 35 feet of an abortion clinic.

  • ChevSm

    I find the 35′ law completely reasonable. 
    I used to pass the comm ave PP clinic every morning and I found the protestors to be extremely pushy.  One morning I was nearly knocked over by some lady trying to give me a pamphlet when I was walking  by the clinic.  I obviously wasn’t going into the clinic and I obviously wasn’t getting an abortion (I’m a male).  

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    We don’t allow those nutty Church Freaks that protest at Military Funerals to be 35 feet from those funerals…  Why do these protesters deserve special privileges?

    If you’re Pro-Life…  how about being Pro-YOUR OWN DUMB-Life and get a hobby…  Do something that adds to the Gross Domestic Product!

    Lastly, the type of people have all day to obsess about abortion.  

    Again…  These spend their entire day OBSESSING ABOUT ABORTION.

    They have been violent in the past and I would not be surprised to find that these people stalk the patients after their visit to the clinic.  And we know they stalk the staff.  Technically they are Terrorists.   They are there to make you uncomfortable.

  • Jim8burley

    I agree with the polling analogy but there are differences. I once walked through an abortion protest line with my girlfriend heading into the clinic. The protesters were not respectful or educational as Dana Cody is saying. The protesters were disruptive, menacing and in-your-face harassment. Dana’s point that the protesters are 35 feet away should point out that they are 35 feet away from the door, not 35 feet away from people walking to the clinic. As for her suggestion that we go to her website to see a video on how protesters interact with clinic guests… really??? How about you just try the exercise yourself of walking through the protester line line. 

    • ChevSm

      I agree, Dana Cody is completely ignorant to what’s going on here in MA.    

    • Lauren

      I completely agree. Free speech is just that…the right to express your opinion. It does not trump the right to not be harassed. It does does include the right to force others to engage in a conversation with you. The Buffer Zone does not preclude anyone coming access an abortion from going over to the protesters and engaging in a conversation. The choice is theirs and that’s how it should be. They should not have to run a blockade. Moreover, abortion protesters are not interested in engaging in a conversation. They are only interested in having a one-sided conversation. There is a great example of this on You Tube (Angry Father Confronts Abortion Protester). The protester actually threatens to call the police because an angry husband of a patient coming for an abortion actually tries to confront a protester about their actions and impacts.

  • J__o__h__n

    We should hand out condoms 35 feet away from churches.

    • WillAct723

      We give out condoms at my church when we teach the very healthy and holistic “Our Whole Lives” sex education program! ;) So – wouldn’t bother us!

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      Along with some Planned Parenthood Business Cards and pamphlets explaining how Unwanted Children are as much of a drain on an economy as Diabetes and Smoking.  ;)

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    My visiting a doctor IS NOT POLITICAL and quite frankly your presence is in defiance of my HIPA rights.

  • J__o__h__n

    There are problems with the Roe decision but it is a huge overstatement to say that pro choice people admit that it is wrong. 

    And there was no disenfranchisement.  You don’t get to vote on rights.  Otherwise we could have a ballot initiative banning protesting within five miles from a clinic. 

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    You know…  That Westboro Baptist Church group actually apply for and occasionally are granted permits to protest.

    Why not make these Pro-Life Nuts get permits for protesting in front of Abortion Clinics?  Then they could be given the permit to protest on Sunday from 7am to 1pm when the facility is closed and these folks should be at church.  :)

  • M Hays

    Buffer zones and the Constitution:  

    In response to the ‘First Amendment and free speach’ claims by Dana Cody, I wish Megna Chakrabarti, Anthony Brooks, Martha Davis or a caller had mentioned many similar ‘buffer zone’ laws that we all live with every day, e.g. defined zones for demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic National conventions and similar events, the Honoring American’s Veterans Act of 2012 (and Westboro Baptist Church), restrictions on who can enter a Presidential event zone, crowd and noise restrictions in a neighborhood zone, many rules governing ‘speech’ and behavior at sporting and concert event venues,  many restrictions on behavior and ‘speech’ at airports, and simple parade permits.  

    In short, the Supreme Court ruled that reasonable and limited restrictions on public speech are permissible, e.g. based on safety concerns and the interests of the public.

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