A.G. Schneiderman Leads Multistate Coalition Urging U.S. Supreme Court To Uphold States' Ability To Protect Access To Reproductive Health Care
New York’s Amicus Brief, Joined By A Dozen States, Urges Court To Uphold Massachusetts Law Creating Buffer Zone Around Reproductive Health Facilities
Schneiderman: My Office Is Committed To Ensuring Full Access To Critical Health Care
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that he is leading a coalition of more than a dozen states in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health clinics. The zone can be traversed only by specified individuals, including those seeking to access the clinic and those passing by en route to a destination on the other side. The brief, filed in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, argues that states should have the flexibility and discretion necessary to balance free speech rights with the right to access to health care, and that the Massachusetts law is a reasonable restriction on the time, place and manner of speech.
Attorney General Schneiderman’s brief is joined by 12 other states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The coalition is also joined by the Territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“States have a strong interest in ensuring that citizens have full and safe access to necessary health care,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The Supreme Court should ensure that states are able to appropriately respond to the unique factual circumstances faced in their state in seeking to ensure safe access to reproductive health facilities, while also protecting all forms of speech and expressive conduct.”
Massachusetts’ law bans non-transitory presence within 35 feet of the entrances of designated reproductive health facilities. The law was instituted after legislative findings that both supporters and opponents of abortion rights were regularly gathering around facility entrances and driveways to engage in lawful protest activities and, in doing so, hampering the ability of patients and staff to access the facilities.
A federal district court in Massachusetts held that the law was constitutional, and the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed that ruling. The First Circuit held that the law was a valid time-place-manner restriction because it was both content and viewpoint neutral, served a valid public safety purpose, was not overbroad and left open adequate alternative channels of communication.
In the states’ brief, Attorney General Schneiderman argues states and municipalities must have the flexibility to address a range of concerns involving access to health care facilities that provide abortion services, while balancing these concerns against the First Amendment rights of their citizens to engage in a range of expressive activities on both sides of the divisive issue of abortion. He argues that the law in Massachusetts is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral way of addressing these concerns in the context of the conditions that were found to exist in Massachusetts.
Merle Hoffman, President and CEO of Choices Medical Center, said, “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for fighting to ensure a proper balance between the critical free speech rights and equally critical rights to reproductive care. This brief recognizes that states and cities experience these concerns in different ways and must have the ability to respond to them in a way that best fits the local situation.”
The Supreme Court will hear argument in McCullen v. Coakley on January 15, 2014.
The brief in the case of McCullen v. Coakley was prepared by New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Andrea Oser and Assistant Solicitor General Zainab A. Chaudhry.
The Attorney General’s Office is committed to protecting and ensuring full access to reproductive health services. To file a complaint, contact the Office’s Civil Rights Bureau at Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov or 212-416-8250.