In a strongly worded unanimous U.S. Supreme Court opinion in McCullen vs. Coakley, a Massachusetts law aimed at pro-life activists seeking to counsel women seeking an abortion was struck down due to its "truly exceptional" and "extreme" approach to limiting free speech.
The law created a 35 foot "buffer zone" around abortion facilities that prevented peaceful engagement with women seeking an abortion.
The case was brought to the court by Eleanor McCullen, who has been credited with saving hundreds of lives through her peaceful conversations outside abortion facilities, informing them of alternatives to abortion.
"Many women have abortions because they feel they have no other option or because they are pressured by a boyfriend or parent," McCullen said in a press release. "Today's ruling means I can offer loving help to a woman who wants it, and neither of us will go to jail for the discussion. I am delighted and thankful to God that the Court has protected my right to engage in kind, hopeful discussions with women who feel they have nowhere else to turn."
Massachusetts claimed the law was necessary for public safety and to maintain access to healthcare facilities, Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his opinion for the full court. But it does so through the "extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers."
Massachusetts "may not do that consistent with the First Amendment," he wrote.
Roberts also called the law "truly exceptional" because no other state has passed such a law.
Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for McCullen and professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University of America, called the decision "very significant," in a Thursday interview with The Christian Post.
"It's a very important win for protecting the right of peaceful citizens to exchange information on public sidewalks. Massachusetts tried to shut that down," he said.
The court is essentially telling Massachusetts, Rienzi explained, that if pro-life demonstrators are breaking the law, either through violence or by blocking access to buildings, the state should prosecute those bad actors, but the state should not craft a law so broad that it restricts the free speech of peaceful pro-lifers.
Rienzi added that he always believed it was possible that all nine justices would side with his client because the court is "very good on free speech" and because the Massachusetts law was so "extreme."
"This is a win for the women who go to abortion clinics," Rienzi added, "because those women often feel like they have no choices and all Eleanor McCullen does is offer people an additional option and many women take her up on that."