A unanimous Supreme Court decision striking down a 35-foot buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics is being praised as a victory not only for pro-life counsellors but for all women.
Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life, told CNA that the ruling “absolutely protects women.”
“Abortion is bad physiologically and psychologically for many, many, many women,” she continued, adding that the ruling supports counselling that “allows women to have informed consent.”
“Abortion can be the most important decision a woman makes in her life, and sometimes she rushes in there in a state of panic,” Monahan explained. “This allows her to put the brakes on, to think about it, to think about what’s actually happening inside of her.”
“So many women regret their abortions,” she lamented.
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Eleanor McCullen and other pro-life sidewalk counsellors in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down a Massachusetts law that placed a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, including on sidewalks and public streets.
McCullen’s lawyers argued that the law unconstitutionally violated freedom of speech and penalized only those with certain views – specifically pro-life views – from offering counselling and education to those entering the clinics, even if they do so peacefully.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the buffer zone regulations “burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests” of protecting access to health care.
“Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks,” he noted, specifically highlighting the significance of such public places as areas for discussion and exchange of ideas.
The decision means that “there is no abortion exception to the First Amendment, and it may very well mean the end to abortion buffer zones around the country,” Casey Mattox, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA.
Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakle said in a June 26 press conference that the state and abortion officials were disappointed with the decision, seeing it as a blow against abortion access.
“The decision today is obviously a disappointment to us,” Coakley said, adding that she would work with law enforcement across the state to enforce portions of the law prohibiting “harassment,” such as “screaming” at abortion clinic employees, which still stand after the Supreme Court decision.
Catholic University of America law professor Mark Rienzi, who served as lead counsel in the McCullen v. Coakley case, praised the high court for affirming “a critical freedom that has been an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding.”
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the ruling “has affirmed the American tradition of basic constitutional rights for all.”
He criticized the overturned law, saying it discriminated against pro-life counsellors while exempting pro-abortion “clinic escorts.” This treatment, he continued, sought to “deny that their fellow Americans who seek to protect the unborn have the same rights as other Americans,” specifically “the right to participate in the public square and serve the vulnerable in accord with our moral convictions.”
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, called the decision “wonderful news” not only “because it upholds our crucial First Amendment rights of free speech” but also “for women considering abortion because it frees sidewalk counselors at abortion facilities to be able to offer compassionate and caring alternatives.”
In a June 26 statement, she challenged those who honestly call themselves “pro-choice” to welcome the decision, asking them to “give the woman a chance at choosing life by presenting her options she may not even know about.”
“Sidewalk counselors can't stop women from having abortions, but they can offer information, resources, and just a listening ear to those young women who feel desperate and alone,” she added.
Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at The Catholic Association, called the ruling “a double victory for the First Amendment.”
“The Supreme Court has rightly held that it is unconstitutional to grant preferential legal status to the speech of pro-abortion activists while punishing pro-life speech,” she stated, adding that this protection of free speech allows for free discussion in public places.
“This was a victory for free speech, this was a victory for religious liberty and, by the way this was a victory for women,” McGuire continued, saying that because all of the women on the Supreme Court agreed in the unanimous decision, it cannot be viewed as anti-woman.