High Court Rejects Challenge to Abortion Clinic 'Buffer' Zones

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from anti-abortion protesters who challenged a Massachusetts law that created a protest-free zone around the entrances and driveways of clinics.

The justices offered no comment in turning down the appeal, letting stand the 2007 law that creates a 35-foot "buffer" zone around abortion clinics.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund had filed the original suit in January 2008 on behalf of several pro-life advocates whose ability to communicate peacefully with people entering the clinics, they say, was "severely compromised" by the new law.

In some instances, the new law reportedly left only about one foot of public sidewalk open to free speech, making it virtually impossible to engage in reasoned conversation.

"It's ironic that Massachusetts, the 'cradle of liberty,' would pass a law that effectively creates a First Amendment-free zone that silences those who seek to share the truth about abortion," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler in a past statement. "Those with pro-life views have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America."

Under the law, signed in November 2007 by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, first-time violators face a fine of up to $500 and three months in jail. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $5,000 and 2 1/2 years in prison.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was recently defeated in her U.S. Senate bid, has defended the law as enhancing public safety while still giving protesters the right to express themselves.

Opponents of the law, however, say it was "obviously" intended to squelch pro-life speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"Penalizing pro-life advocates because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights in a public place is unconstitutional," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler.

The case, filed initially in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Boston Division, is McCullen v. Coakley.