Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law


Thursday, June 26, 2014


Melissa Fowler
202.667.5881; 202.595.4395 (after hours/cell)

Statement of Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF):

Today, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone that created a safe space around reproductive health care facilities in the state.

This decision is incredibly disappointing and ignores the very real threats of violence and intimidation that abortion providers and their patients face every day. Since 1977, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, and thousands of incidents of criminal activities. The Massachusetts law was passed after two clinic employees, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were murdered and five other people were injured when an anti-abortion extremist went on a shooting rampage inside two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1994.

Buffer zones work. They are a proven way to balance the importance of safe access to reproductive health care facilities with the free speech rights of anti-choice individuals to distribute literature or engage in conversations with consenting parties.

Anti-abortion groups would like you to think that they are merely engaging in quiet ‘counseling.’ But aggressive threats and intimidation, stalking patients from their cars to the door, and verbally and physically assaulting them is not counseling. According to a September 2013 survey of NAF members, 92% of responding facilities reported that they are concerned about the safety of their patients in the areas approaching the facility:

“Twice recently protesters pushed or shoved our patients. Several protesters have come into our clinic waiting room pretending to be patients. We have now had to hire armed security guards in order to feel safe,” said one NAF member in Michigan.

“We called the police because of safety concerns for a patient who telephoned us from her car in fear. Two staff members went to assist her and when the door was opened to let staff in, a protester jumped in too, yelling at the patient,” said one NAF member in Virginia.

In contrast, 75% of responding facilities with buffer zones stated that the zones improved patient and staff access to the facilities. As one NAF member in Massachusetts responded:

“It has been wonderful to have the protesters farther away from the clinic. It has cleared the path from the curb to the front door, made it free of obstruction and easier, safer and more comfortable for patients and staff. It has also cleared a path around the staff garage–making staff feel safer.”

NAF filed an amicus brief with support from 31 other organizations, in McCullen v. Coakley in support of the Massachusetts buffer zone law. Additionally, buffer zones around the country have broad support from important stakeholders, including law enforcement.

The Massachusetts law was supported by law enforcement who cited its effectiveness in curbing violence and maintaining public safety. It was also supported by residents who remember the devastating violence that ended the lives of two of their own in 1994.


The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is the professional association of abortion providers in North America. Our mission is to ensure safe, legal, and accessible abortion care, which promotes health and justice for women. Our members include private and non-profit clinics, Planned Parenthood affiliates, women’s health centers, physicians’ offices, and hospitals who together care for more than half the women who choose abortion in the U.S. and Canada each year. Our members also include public hospitals and both public and private clinics in Mexico City and private clinics in Colombia.

Share this Post