[U.S.] Supreme Court Hears McCullen v. Coakley: Buffer Zones Preventing Pro-Life Speech Threaten Freedom



Catholic Online
• By Deacon Keith Fournier
• 1/16/2014
• Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Supreme Court Hears McCullen v. Coakley: Buffer Zones Preventing Pro-Life Speech Threaten Freedom

The case originated with a courageous seventy seven year old Massachusetts woman named Eleanor McCullen. She is a mother and grandmother who goes to abortion clinics and peacefully seeks to help the mothers and the fathers understand the truth concerning what happens in every abortion. She also gives out knitted stocking caps filled with educational information on alternatives to abortion. She and her colleagues believe that the First Amendment is supposed to protect them. They are completely peaceful, do not block access, and offer support, educational information and assistance. This is a public sidewalk.

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Since this is an international forum, I started the title with . I hope that did not break the rules.

I could be wrong, but this could be the first big case against Row v. Wade.

A decision in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, is expected by June. Let us pray that the decision favors our unborn little brothers and sisters.

God bless.


I’m in favor of the buffer zones. It allows folks to protest visably but to a certain extent still protects people’s privacy.

The problem with the protesters is they assume every woman is seeking an abortion, even if they are simply passing by on their way to work. From what I’ve heard they can come off as abrasive, deceitful, and judgy. This is anecdotal of course because they don’t bother males, only females.

There should also be buffer zones around places like funeral homes, cemeteries, and churches.


Honestly, I don’t see the outcome of this case (whatever it may be) having that great of an impact on Roe v. Wade. It’s about buffer zones for pro-life protesters, not about any type of abortion procedure. Even if the Supreme Court does away with the buffer zones entirely, that doesn’t speak to when or how abortions are performed.

My guess is their decision will be quite narrow to this specific situation.

Something like that Arizona case about banning abortion after 20 weeks had much more potential to chip away at Roe v. Wade.


I can’t think of any other instance where government prohibits free speech on public property. If protesters cross the line onto private property, assault or threaten others, damage property, or are lewd in public, they should be held accountable. That is not the profile of anti-abortion people I know. It sounds a lot more like gay rights or occupy Wall Street protesters who are rarely held accountable.

The first amendment was designed to protect controversial speech. If you don’t like it, too bad. This kind of selective restriction of free speech needs to end.


Actually that is exactly why there is a buffer zone. People have impersonated police officers and took names and addresses while pretending to be escorts. They have blocked the entranceways, they have verbally assaulted women entering the clinic. Women have been terrified by these people. Not all speech is protected.

Here is an article with some examples:



Aren’t there laws already on books about impersonating officers & blocking entrance ways of private property? Why not enforce those laws?


Here is another horrible example: Praying



I agree with Joe. This case has very little to no impact on Roe as is more about freedom of speech. The big issue in here is that buffer zones under other circumstances have been ruled as violating freedom of speech. Most recently let’s remember the case of the baptist church protesting in funerals of military people. The court ruled that buffer zones in this case violate freedom of speech. Now it is true that not all speech is permitted but the kinds of scpeech that can be regulated are only fighting words, obscenity, when it creates a clear danger and defamation. If I am right the original buffer zones for abortion passed through fighting words and clear dangers (because there are some protesters that unfortunately do cross the line). But now with the decision in baptist church which involves a similar situation it seems that buffer zones do violate freedom of speech. It would be interesting the outcomeof this case


Actually that is why the buffer zone passed originally. Fighting words. Some people do get violent. However as I mentioned a silar situation happened at military funerals with the Baptist church whose members were harassing the families of the soldiers and insulting them etc. The court ruled in favor of the Baptist church which then contradicts the buffer zones in abortion clinics.


I honestly don’t know why, it’s a good point. Perhaps there should be a permanent police prescence if people can’t behave themselves.

You also have to remember that the shooting in Brookline left a mark that many had a hard time forgetting. People were scared, terrorism tends to do that to people.

As far as the Baptist church, I really do think that they should be forced to stay back a certain distance. You can utilize your free speech without getting in someones face. I think a respectful distance should be maintained in some areas.


I agree on that. I was extremely shocked when the court came out saying that the buffer zone violated freedom of speech and I didn’t expect that, specially since this was after the buffer zones for abortion clinics. They basically gave green light to in your face bullying in the middle of a funeral. I am really curious as to how they will decide this one and if they upheld the buffer zone how they are going to differentiate it from the Baptist church.


I get your point, however, once you create a specific exception to the 1st amendment, that exception applies everywhere. For example, there are a number of public universities that have tried to implement “free speech zones”. So if you want to hand out literature, or speak publicly, the college designates where this allowed to take place. Many times the zones were not equally implemented, meaning liberal groups got away with doing what they wanted outside of the zones and conservative groups had the zones enforced. Previously, those zones when challenged in court were held to be unconstitutional…maybe not so in the future. We need to remember that once we give away part of a right, we don’t get it back.


I won’t disagree with that. I do think they should be applied everywhere. I’m curious how this will turn out.

I don’t want folks to think that I think the protesters or people praying should be prevented. I applaud them if they are doing it with humility and sincerity. Personally it’s not my calling but I won’t tell someone else that their calling is wrong. This will probably not be a popular statement but although I believe in free speech, I also believe in privacy.

May be off topic somewhat but is privacy a right according to Catholic teaching? I see it as one but am willing to be corrected.


Free speech zones? I remember those…


The court won’t overturn unless they can figure a way to write the decision so that it applies only to these protests but leaves our corporate masters and their purchased political tools unmolested.


Apparantly the judges appeared to be skeptical of the buffer zones acordding to the AP and other news reports.


One of the problems is that the buffer zones don’t apply to those who support abortion, so you have a law that limits the speech of one group and not the opposing group.

I think that the court will overturn the law.




Actually, you could be right. I was forgetting this is a Massachusetts thing.

I live around the corner from an abortion clinic here, and the protests, such as they are (usually a handful of people saying rosaries and the like), are definitely allowed on the sidewalk in front of the clinic. They just can’t go onto the property itself. So no “buffer zone” here, I guess.


If you want to limit or eliminate Abortions in the USA. Education is going to be your best bet. Anyway opportunity to educate is helpful to our cause,



I agree that education is key. I suppose if you take the long view, the outcome could be relevant to Roe v. Wade. If pro-life people can be closer to the building, they can disseminate more information and increase the number of hearts that are changed, which will increase the number of pro-life people in society, which will increase the likelihood that Roe v. Wade gets overturned some day.

I just don’t expect it to have an immediate direct impact on Roe v. Wade. But any victory for the pro-life movement is something I will pray for and celebrate.


All of which is already against the law. Why are abortion mills the only ones afforded this “protection”

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