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Women’s Health Care Organization Pledges to Continue to Fight for Patient Safety in Wake of Supreme Court Ruling Blocking Mass. Buffer Zone Law

WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts condemn today’s ruling by the Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley, a case challenging a 2007 Massachusetts law, An Act Relative to Public Safety.  In an effort to protect patient and public safety while balancing free speech rights, the law established a 35-foot zone in which no protests or demonstrations are permitted during health center operating hours. 

“This decision shows a troubling level of disregard for American women, who should be able to make carefully considered, private medical decisions without running a gauntlet of harassing and threatening protesters,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.“We are taking a close look at this ruling, as well as patient protection laws around the country, to ensure that women can continue to make their own health care decisions without fear of harassment or intimidation.”

States and many municipalities across the country have similar buffer zone laws but many of them operate differently from each other. One state and nine localities have ordinances like the Massachusetts one, with a fixed-distance buffer zone, that are at risk if challenged. So-called “bubble zone” laws, which allow protestors inside a buffer provided they do not approach patients closely without permission, were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hill v. Colorado.

“Today’s ruling isn’t the end of the story — it can’t be,” said Martha “Marty” Walz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, and we will work with local law enforcement and elected officials to protect public safety.”

An Act Relative to Public Safety was 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.  After enactment of the law, protesters continued to hold demonstrations outside the buffer zone, and in fact recent reporting on the case has confirmed the plaintiffs in this case are able to engage in precisely the type of speech they say the law precludes.

Before An Act Relative to Public Safety passed in 2007, protesters stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the doorway of reproductive health centers; obstructed cars trying to enter health center driveways; dressed up as police officers in order to obtain patients’ and staff members’ personal identifying information; filmed and photographed patients’ and staff members’ vehicles; screamed at patients and staff members; and even touched their bodies. 

Prior to today’s ruling, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts twice upheld the constitutionality of An Act Relative to Public Safety, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals also twice ruled that the Massachusetts buffer zone law is constitutional.  


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 Federation of America


Planned Parenthood Federation of America media office: 212-261-4433


June 26, 2014