By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The un-Muzzling of anti-abortion protesters

In 1999 I gave a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award to Susan Fargo and Paul Demakis, two Massachusetts legislators pushing for an abortion-clinic buffer zone. Today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that those buffer zones are an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    Dan, no comment on abortion itself, but I’m curious why you feel a nominal setback for clinic protesters is somehow an infringement on their rights to assemble and free speech. There was a letter in the Globe on Sunday that lays out one of the counter arguments:

    Since you’ve noted before that the right to free speech doesn’t extend (as Justice Holmes opined) to false speech that could cause immediate harm to others, how does this square with the very real scenario of a protester who seeks to intimidate a pregnant woman who might be seeking an abortion for pressing personal health reasons?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: The buffer zone prevents constitutionally protected First Amendment activity as well as illegal activity. It’s a basic principle of First Amendment law that you can’t ban protected activity simply because it might lead to lawbreaking, even if it has in the past. That’s why the Court ruled in Near v. Minnesota (1931) that the state of Minnesota couldn’t shut down a racist, anti-Semitic rag called The Saturday Press even though it had repeatedly committed libel. That’s why the buffer-zone decision was decided by a 9-0 vote, including all four liberals, three of whom are women. My opinion is hardly an outlier.

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