ADL: Supreme Court Deals “Setback” to Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Services in Massachusetts

New York, NY, June 26, 2014 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called today’s Supreme Court decision in McCullen v. Coakley “disappointing” and “a setback” for access to reproductive health services in Massachusetts.  But the League welcomed the court’s recognition of the importance of both free speech and women’s right to access reproductive health care.

In its 9-0 ruling, the court found the 2007 law preventing anti-abortion activists from standing within a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health facilities overly broad and a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Critically, however, the decision also acknowledged the state’s interest in “ensuring public safety outside abortion clinics, preventing harassment and intimidation of patients and clinic staff, and combating deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances.” And the justices outlined a clear path for Massachusetts to enact legislation similar to existing ordinances in other jurisdictions that could pass constitutional muster.

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director issued the following statement:

The Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley is disappointing and a setback to women’s safe and unobstructed access to reproductive health facilities in Massachusetts. At the same time, however, we welcome the court’s unequivocal endorsement of other buffer zone laws and its recognition of the importance of women’s unimpeded access to reproductive health facilities.

The decision specifically notes that Massachusetts can enact other legislation, similar to the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 or New York City’s ordinance making it a crime to follow or harass another person within 15 feet of a reproductive health facility. We urge Massachusetts to act swiftly and decisively to enact new legislation that protects women’s abilities to access reproductive health care free of harassment or intimidation while simultaneously respecting the First Amendment rights of others.

ADL led a coalition of organizations filing an amicus brief in favor of upholding Massachusetts’ buffer zone as constitutional. The brief urged the Supreme Court to recognize that other legislatures and courts have relied on its previous rulings upholding buffer zones, including around houses of worship and funerals.

ADL’s brief was joined by a dozen other organizations, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Methodist Foundation for Social Action, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the Union for Reform Judaism.

ADL is the world’s leading anti-hate organization. Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion. A global leader in exposing extremism, delivering anti-bias education, and fighting hate online, ADL is the first call when acts of anti-Semitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate.