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Federal judge affirms abortion clinic buffer

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BOSTON -- On Feb. 22, a federal court judge upheld the current Massachusetts buffer zone law that restricts pro-life speech outside abortion clinics. Since 2007, sidewalk counselors and those praying outside clinics in the commonwealth have been required to do so at a 35-foot distance from all entrances. The law replaced a previous 18-foot restriction.

Seven pro-lifer activists who regularly stand outside Planned Parenthood in Boston, Springfield and Worcester filed suit against the law, citing its restriction of their right to free speech.

Justice Joseph L. Tauro split the case into two challenges -- one to the law itself and the other to the law as applied. He upheld the law itself in 2008, determining that the commonwealth has a "substantial and legitimate" interest in protecting public safety outside clinics. That decision was affirmed by the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and not taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his latest ruling on the law as applied, Judge Tauro found that the regulation left open "ample alternative means of communication."

"Protesters may engage in any form of communication with their intended audience so long as they do not do so inside a clearly marked and posted buffer zone during clinic business hours," the ruling reads. "A valid time, place, and manner restriction, by its nature must burden some First Amendment activity for the purpose of advancing the State interest at stake."

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