The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case Wednesday on the right to protest near abortion clinics.
Anti-abortion activists have challenged a Massachusetts state law that forbids them from protesting or handing out materials within 35 feet of an abortion clinic.
The state's "selective exclusion law" makes it a crime for people who are not clinic employees or agents to "enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk" within 12 yards of "a reproductive health care facility."
Activists say this law has kept them from talking with patients who want to enter a clinic. Protesters argue that their First Amendment rights don’t end just because they are in close proximity to the clinic’s door.
"It's time for the Supreme Court to put an end to these perverse attempts to silence pro-life speakers," said Dana Cody, the president of the anti-abortion Life Legal Defense Foundation. "Massachusetts is grasping at straws and its bubble zone law flies in the face of the very notion of freedom of speech."
"Too many times, we've seen the Supreme Court pass a death sentence on voiceless children in the womb. It would be yet another injustice to silence any person who speaks out on behalf of these children," said Lila Rose, the president of Live Action. "The Constitution of the United States does not become void as one gets close to an abortion facility."
Last year a federal appeals court ruled that "the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter health care facilities cannot seriously be questioned."
"Massachusetts' buffer zone statute strikes the right balance between ensuring safe access to medical facilities and preserving freedom of expression," argued state Attorney General Martha Coakley. "This law has enhanced public safety in a fair and constitutional manner."
Anti-abortion activists say the law shouldn’t apply to peaceful protestors and those who just want to hand out reading material.
"The prohibition applies even to speakers who are entirely peaceful, do not engage in any obstructive or intimidating conduct, and seek only to proffer leaflets, engage in consensual conversations, or even just stand and display a sign or pray,” said Mark Rienzi, a Catholic University law professor.
A ruling is expected by June.