CASEMcCullen v. Coakley

Client Story
Eleanor McCullen

Two days a week, five hours per day, for the last 14 years, Eleanor McCullen has stood on the sidewalk outside a Boston Planned Parenthood facility trying to persuade mothers not to abort their babies. Those who stand alongside Eleanor describe her as having “a real gift,” “a saint,” and “like Mother Teresa.”  

 

Sidewalk counseling wasn’t always a passion for Eleanor. In the summer of 2000, she had her own St. Paul moment when God knocked her off her horse one day at Mass. Up until then, life had seemed rich and full enough, “but I was getting a little restless,” she said. Feeling convicted to do something greater for the Lord, Eleanor asked her priest for a few suggestions. He told her to go down to Planned Parenthood and pray for the women there. Eleanor did just that, and she’s been serving the Lord and the women of Boston ever since.

But, in 2008, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts created a fixed “buffer zone” around abortion centers. Pro-life counselors were required to keep at least 35 feet away from building entrances, exits, and driveways. The new “buffer zone” statute impacted the way sidewalk counselors interacted with mothers and fathers and others entering and exiting the centers. Instead of approaching with kindness and compassion, Eleanor and the other counselors were forced to shout at the women and men to get their attention, giving off the impression they were there to condemn, not help, the women and men and their unborn babies.

Alliance Defending Freedom gave full support to Allied Attorney Michael DePrimo who, along with two other Allied Attorneys, Mark Rienzi and Philip Moran, worked on behalf of Eleanor to challenge the new “buffer zone” statute.

“The U.S. Supreme Court had never approved of any type of a law even remotely similar to the Massachusetts statute,” DePrimo said, “The court has, for many, many years, said that speech on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open.” Nevertheless, “the courts have been chipping away at the rights of pro-lifers, making it much more difficult for them to express their messages, even on public sidewalks.”

Litigation against the Massachusetts attorney general went on for eight years, finally reaching the United States Supreme Court in early 2013.

A few months after arguments, nine justices, who rarely agree on anything, ruled unanimously in Eleanor's favor. “Even the most liberal Supreme Court justices ruled that the Massachusetts buffer statute violated the First Amendment,” DePrimo said.

The court’s decision didn’t only impact the abortion center Eleanor faithfully counseled at. Other cities across the country also began repealing similar buffer zone statutes—making it easier for pro-life counselors to do their life-saving work.

“It’s all glory to God,” Eleanor says, “and thank you to our lawyers for persevering.”

Read more of Eleanor’s story in Faith & Justice.

 


Share this page
Summary
A Massachusetts law created a 35-foot “buffer zone” restricting pro-life advocates from speaking with people entering abortion facilities. In 2007, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed S.B. 1353, which created the zone.
News Releases

US Supreme Court unanimous in striking down Mass. anti-speech buffer zone

Sanctity of Life

US Supreme Court unanimous in striking down Mass. anti-speech buffer zone

High court calls law that censors free speech of pro-life advocates unconstitutional

Jun 26, 2014 Read More

US Supreme Court strikes down Mass. anti-speech buffer zone

Sanctity of Life

US Supreme Court strikes down Mass. anti-speech buffer zone

ADF official comment

Jun 26, 2014 Read More

US Supreme Court to hear arguments Wednesday in ‘Cradle of Liberty’ buffer zone case

Sanctity of Life

US Supreme Court to hear arguments Wednesday in ‘Cradle of Liberty’ buffer zone case

High court will consider constitutionality of Mass. law that censors free speech of pro-life advocates

Jan 14, 2014 Read More

US Supreme Court to weigh in on buffer zone case in ‘Cradle of Liberty’

Sanctity of Life

US Supreme Court to weigh in on buffer zone case in ‘Cradle of Liberty’

High court will consider constitutionality of Mass. law that censors free speech of pro-life advocates

Jun 24, 2013 Read More

ADF-allied attorney available to media following hearing in Mass. ‘buffer zone’ case

Sanctity of Life

ADF-allied attorney available to media following hearing in Mass. ‘buffer zone’ case

Hearing concerns challenge to constitutionality of law that restricts free speech of pro-life advocates

May 04, 2009 Read More

Mass. law restricting speech around abortion clinics challenged on appeal

Sanctity of Life

Mass. law restricting speech around abortion clinics challenged on appeal

Pro-life advocates challenge constitutionality of 35-foot “buffer zone” law

Jan 27, 2009 Read More

ADF attorneys file suit against law silencing pro-life advocates in the “Cradle of Liberty”

Sanctity of Life

ADF attorneys file suit against law silencing pro-life advocates in the “Cradle of Liberty”

New law stifles free speech through creation of 35-foot “buffer zone” around abortion clinics

Jan 21, 2008 Read More
Share this page
Documents
https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/mccullen-v-coakley---u-s-supreme-court-opinion.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/mccullen-v-coakley---u-s-supreme-court-oral-argument-transcript.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/mccullen-v-coakley---petition-for-certiorari.pdf?sfvrsn=6https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/mccullen-v-coakley---2009-opening-brief-filed-with-1st-circuit.pdf?sfvrsn=8https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/web-content-dev/documents/mccullen-v-coakley---complaint.pdf?sfvrsn=6
Court Title Date
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court opinion Jun 26 2014
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court oral argument transcript Jan 15 2014
U.S. Supreme Court
Petition for certiorari Mar 25 2013
Appellate Court
2009 opening brief filed with 1st Circuit Jan 26 2009
Trial Court
Complaint Jan 16 2008

Commentary

Resources

Biographies

Media Documents

Related Cases