January 15

Justices doubtful on Mass. abortion buffer zone law

With implications for a Portland ordinance, the justices question the size of the zone and whether Mass. could find less restrictive ways of ensuring patient access and safety.

By Mark Sherman
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Anti-abortion demonstrators protest with graphic signs outside the Planned Parenthood of New England agency on Congress Street in Portland last year. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to a Massachusetts law similar to a Portland ordinance that restricts protests outside abortion clinics within a 39-foot buffer zone.

2012 Press Herald File Photo / Gordon Chibroski

Since then, four of the six justices in the majority have retired, while the three dissenters — Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Kennedy — remain on the court. Thomas was silent Wednesday, as is his custom during arguments, while Kennedy and Scalia made clear their problems with the Massachusetts law.

Scalia objected even to calling McCullen and the others who challenged the law protesters. “This is not a protest case. They don’t want to protest. They want to talk to women and talk them out of abortions,” he said.

Kennedy questioned whether other state and federal laws could not be used to accomplish the same goal of keeping access to the clinics open. “What’s wrong with the physical obstruction statutes as an answer to the problems Massachusetts is facing?” Kennedy said.

Two of the four newer justices since 2000 are Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, who both have voted to restrict abortion rights. Roberts also has written strong opinions in favor of protesters’ rights, including members of a Kansas church who protest outside military funerals. Alito has been more willing to limit those rights.

But Alito appeared certain to vote to strike down the law, which he said treats people differently based on their point of view.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Grace Miller of Massachusetts failed to dissuade Alito that the issue was not what anyone was saying, but the state’s desire to keep traffic moving in front of the clinic.

Rienzi said the state could deal with congestion problems by asking people to move, “not dragging Mrs. McCullen off to prison.”

The case, McCullen v. Coakley, 12-1168, will be decided by late June.

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