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Planned Parenthood: Massachusetts Law “Strikes the Right Balance”
Planned Parenthood Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Rule to Protect Women’s Privacy and the Public’s Safety in Brief to be Filed Today
WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts will jointly file an amicus brief today in McCullen v. Coakley, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case seeks to overturn a Massachusetts law designed to protect public safety, patient privacy, and free speech rights outside reproductive health care centers by creating a 35-foot buffer zone where no protests or demonstrations, regardless of the point of view being expressed, are permitted during health center operating hours.
In the brief, Planned Parenthood says the law — passed in 2007 after decades of harassment and intimidation of Massachusetts women seeking safe access to legal reproductive health care services, including birth control, cancer screenings, and abortion — strikes an appropriate balance between ensuring public safety and protecting free speech rights.
“We cannot go back to a time when women in Massachusetts are routinely harassed and intimidated while trying to access the health care they need,” said Martha “Marty” Walz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. A former state legislator, Ms. Walz was one of the lead sponsors of the 2007 law when she served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
“For nearly three decades, health care providers, law enforcement, our courts and our state legislature tried various strategies to curb the harassment and intimidation directed at women seeking health care and this law is the only measure that has worked. This law has allowed for a peaceful co-existence between Planned Parenthood doctors, our patients, and those who want to protest women’s private and constitutionally protected health care decisions,” Walz said.“We expect our nation’s highest court will agree this law strikes the right balance between the rights of women to access health care, the state’s interest in protecting public safety and the free speech rights of Americans,” said Roger Evans, senior director of public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The Massachusetts law establishing the fixed, 35-foot buffer zone during health center operating hours was passed in 2007 after a previous law proved insufficient. During the seven years that a different buffer zone law was on the books in Massachusetts, protesters persisted in their efforts to harass and intimidate women, with records showing: protesters dressed up as police officers in order to obtain patients’ and staffs’ personal identifying information; protesters filmed and photographed patients’ and staff’ vehicles, screamed at them, and even touched their bodies. During testimony before the Massachusetts state legislature, law enforcement officials contended that they could not effectively protect public safety near the entrances under the former statute. This is why the 2007 Massachusetts state law, “An Act Relative to Public Safety,” was adopted and signed into law.
Planned Parenthood maintains that the 35-foot buffer zone law does not target any particular viewpoint, and rather is narrowly tailored to protect against a long-standing public safety problem outside reproductive health care centers in the Commonwealth. In fact, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts has twice upheld the constitutionality of the law and the First Circuit Court of Appeals has also twice ruled that the Massachusetts buffer zone law is constitutional. Two other states and many municipalities across the country have enacted buffer zone laws.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts is the largest freestanding reproductive health care provider and advocate in the Commonwealth, providing sexual and reproductive health care through nearly 50,000 patient visits per year. Ninety percent of PPLM services are preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, testing and treatment for STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, sexual health education and information. For 85 years, PPLM has protected and promoted sexual and reproductive health and rights through clinical services, education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.pplm.org.