Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an important case for protecting women’s access to reproductive health services. The case is McCullen v. Coakley, a case challenging a Massachusetts “buffer zone” law. The Massachusetts law simply regulates the conduct of the public by ensuring reproductive health care facilities have a 35-foot radius to keep their doors and driveways unobstructed for patient access.
The National Women’s Law Center has signed on to an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law. The brief argues that the law advances a significant government interest in protecting the employees and patients who enter reproductive health clinics. The brief explains in detail the history of violence, obstruction, and harassment that clinics, employees, and patients have endured over the years, and the critical need for buffer zone laws such as the one in Massachusetts.
Indeed, clinics in Massachusetts have a particularly sad history with such violence; in late 1994, two of its clinics were targeted and two employees murdered in the light of day. Now, while we may have hoped that things have changed since 1994, the reality is that violence against abortion providers continues and women seeking services at reproductive health care facilities are also subject to harassment and obstruction.
Buffer zone laws are necessary and critical for protecting clinic employees and patients, maybe even more so now than ever. The Supreme Court should follow prior precedent and hold that this content- and viewpoint- neutral regulation does not violate the First Amendment.