McCullen v. Coakley
What's at Stake
Whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone outside abortion clinics is constitutional on its face and as applied to three specific clinics in the state.
This case involves a clash between two constitutional rights that the ACLU has long defended. One is the right to engage in peaceful protest on the public streets; the other is the right to seek an abortion without being subject to harassment, intimidation, obstruction, or violence. In an amicus brief submitted in support of neither party, the ACLU argues that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone outside abortion clinics is constitutional on its face given a record of past harassment, intimidation, obstruction and violence. Our brief also concludes, however, that the lower courts undervalued the importance of face-to-face communication, including leafleting, in considering whether the buffer zone may suppress more speech than necessary at certain sites that are primarily accessed by car. Rather than have the Supreme Court resolve that issue itself, we suggest a remand to the lower courts.