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The State And Public Safety In Mc Cullen V. Coakley

1630 words - 7 pages

Protests outside abortion clinics are of such interest to the state because they entail the clash of two opposing yet Constitutional guarantees - the protestor’s right to the freedom of speech and the woman’s liberty to terminate her own pregnancy. Though it is in the state’s interests to provide safe and non-threatening environments for its inhabitants, the state must also limit their intervention to avoid impeding on the First amendment rights of the protestors. The states’ attempts to reach compromises in their imposed restrictions on free speech often face obstacles from their primary goal of upholding public safety. McCullen v. Coakley (2014) has challenged the constitutionality of ...view middle of the document...

In addition, narrow tailoring provides a specific justification for the buffer in the context of any healthcare facility that may benefit from a buffer to prevent the harassment of and violence against any potential patient. Finally, alternate methods of protestor communication are vital because without options of communication outside the buffer zone, protestors have no means of relaying their message thereby illegally annulling their freedom of speech.
Despite the upheld constitutionality of a buffer zone in Hill v. Colorado, the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in McCullen v. Coakley claims a lack of content neutrality, narrow tailoring, and other methods of communication that would violate effective freedoms of speech outside the imposed buffers. The plaintiff’s Writ for Certiorari maintains the Massachusetts’ 2007 Act in question in McCullen v. Coakley (2014) “applies only at abortion clinics; permits speech by clinic agents while excluding speakers who advocate alternatives to abortion; and completely excludes disfavored speakers from otherwise public areas, banning even consensual speech with willing listeners.” Whereas Hill v. Colorado (2000) stated that all speakers were unable to enter buffer zones, McCullen provides exemptions for clinic personnel and law enforcement. The plaintiffs express the concern that this provides for the inherent discrimination of speech content in that clinic personnel can impart their viewpoint onto the client in a way that protestors outside the buffer zone cannot. Only applying buffer zones to abortion clinics also proves problematic to the Hill verdict as it narrows the form of facilities where these buffers are permissible from all healthcare facilities to non-hospitals that provide abortion services. Through banning even consensual attempts at pro-life discussion, the plaintiffs believe McCullen v. Coakley not only impeded protestors’ rights to communicate with prospective patients but also prohibited women’s ability to hear arguments that may sway their opinion before making a monumental decision.
Another tactic the petitioners used to explicate the unconstitutional nature of the statute in McCullen v. Coakley was debunking the theory that protestors are violent and pose a real threat to the safety of patients entering RHCFs. The petitioners refer to common protestors as ‘sidewalk counselors’; the nature of ‘sidewalk counseling’ entails “close, kind, personal communication with calm voices, caring demeanor and eye contact.” This account of protestor demeanor could not be further from that of the defendant and if this were the case, it begs the question why buffer zones are necessary at all. Removing the threat of protestors likens protestors to the innocence and wisdom of a grandmother thereby repudiating the notion of their freedom of speech as an impediment to patient’s liberties. In addition, through changing the buffer zone created in Hill (2000) to a further, fixed buffer (rather than...

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