Washington, DC – This week, Democrats For Life of America filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting the freedom of pro-life sidewalk counselors to continue to offer alternatives to women seeking abortions. The case, McCullen v. Coakley, involves a Massachusetts law that imposes a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinic entryways and driveways, violating the First Amendment rights of counselors to communicate information about support and alternatives and the right of women willing to receive such information.
“We often hear in the political battlefield about the protecting a women’s right to choose,” said Day. “Many women who visit clinics do not think there is an option other than abortion. The petitioners offer financial support, food, housing, health care and other information and support to provide women with a real choice.”
The brief was joined by Clergy for Better Choices, a network of pastors and church leaders concerned about the high abortion rates in the New York City metropolitan area, especially among minority communities. The brief emphasizes studies that indicate that a significant number of women seek abortion with ambivalence and are driven to abortion because of concerns about “personal finances, housing, health care, and lack of parenting training.” Studies also show that poor women are over-represented among those having abortions.
“Democrats For Life believes that women should have access to alternatives to abortion,” said Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life. “The sidewalk counselors talk to willing women who may have thought abortion was their only choice. The volunteers spend countless hours, and in many cases their personal funds, to help pregnant women find alternatives to abortion and to provide financial support for services.”
By imposing the 35-foot exclusionary zone, the brief points out, Massachusetts law prevents the pro-life counselors from engaging in the “gentle quiet conversations” that are necessary to communicate alternatives and support to women. Before the law took effect, the plaintiffs’ compassionate advocacy had persuaded and helped hundreds of women who had gone to the clinic believing abortion was their only choice. But the buffer-zone law forces them to stand at a distance, preventing such conversations, while allowing abortion-clinic personnel to speak freely with women within the zone. DFLA’s brief argues that the buffer-zone is unconstitutional because “the alternative channels of communication it permits—shouts, loudspeakers, and signs from a distance—are utterly inadequate for Petitioners’ message of care and support.”
“The manner of speech is crucial to [the counselors’] message of caring assistance,” said Tom Berg, a DFLA board member and a law professor at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), who filed the brief for DFLA. “They should not be forced into the different, and stereotyped, mold of a shouting protester.” Day added: “Polls indicate that as a nation, we want to see the abortion rate decrease. This law seriously restricts speech intended to support pregnant women and tell them that there is support and funding to help them carry their pregnancies to term.”