Appeals court lifts injunction in buffer zone law

BOSTON - A Massachusetts law that restricts protesters from approaching women entering abortion clinics was reinstated by a federal appeals court Friday, a month after a lower court declared it unconstitutional.

The law, passed by the state legislature in August, took effect for 10 days last month before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Harrington issued an injunction. Attorney General Thomas Reilly appealed the ruling, and on Friday the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed his injunction.

Harrington said the law infringed on the free speech rights of anti-abortion demonstrators by forcing them to stay at least 18 feet away from clinics where abortions are performed, and at least six feet away from women entering a clinic.

But the 1st Circuit said the harm to public safety from barring enforcement outweighed the ''potential effect'' of First Amendment violations of enforcing the law.

A similar law in Colorado, which creates a 100-foot buffer zone around medical facilities, was challenged by anti-abortion protesters but was upheld in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawmakers here began pushing for the measure after gunman John Salvi killed two female workers at two Massachusetts abortion clinics in 1994.

In a press release, Reilly called the buffer zone ''a sensible measure that strikes the right balance between public safety and the right to free speech.''

The new ruling determines only whether the law can be enforced while its constitutionality is considered.

Thomas Harvey, the attorney for three anti-abortion activists who sued to block the law, said he was confident the court would uphold Harrington's ruling once it considered the entire case. Arguments have not been scheduled.


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