Monday, September 16, 2013
McCullen v. Coakley, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, is a free speech challenge to a Massachusetts law that puts a 35-foot "buffer zone" around abortion clinic driveways and entrance ways, barring sidewalk counselors from coming within conversational distance while exempting clinic employees "acting within the scope of their employment." The plaintiff/petitioner sidewalk counselors provide information to clinic patrons about abortion alternatives; financial support, housing, and health care for women and children; parenting training; etc. They claim that the statute discriminates against anti-abortion speech, and that even if it's "content-neutral," it sweeps too broadly and leaves them inadequate alternative channels of communication like shouting quick slogans, etc., from a distance.
I've filed an amicus brief for the Democrats for Life of America and Clergy for Better Choices, a NYC organization of urban clergy concerned about abortion, especially the high rates in minority communities, and seeking to provide alternatives. The gist of the brief is that a significant number of women would be responsive to the kind of calm, conversational offers of support the plaintiffs seek to provide. A taste of the argument:
[S]tudies examining the abortion decision-making process have concluded that a significant number of women obtaining abortions experience ambivalence about doing so, even up to the point of the abortion itself. The evidence also indicates that ambivalent women who request an abortion are more likely to be driven to do so by factors such as personal finances, housing, health care, and lack of parenting training. Again, these are precisely the factors on which Petitioners offer information and support. . . .
Petitioners’ unrebutted testimony shows that they are able to speak with far fewer women now, and their speech is far less effective in reaching women, than before the Act imposed the buffer zones. Moreover, speech from outside the buffer zones is inadequate not simply because it is less effective. Petitioners and others like them wish to speak on this sensitive matter in gentle, civil, personal conversations. The manner of speech is crucial to their message of caring assistance. They should not be forced into a different mold—in many ways, a stereotyped mold—of a shouting protester.
I can't get the file with the full brief to upload now (that Typepad function seems to be out), but when the brief gets onto the Supreme Court website or upload starts working, I'll link to the page or file with the full brief.
UPDATE: The brief is here.