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Federal judge rejects challenge to state’s abortion clinic buffer zone law

A federal judge has rejected a challenge to the state’s abortion clinic buffer zone law as it has been applied at clinics in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro rejected claims that the law violated abortion protesters’ free speech rights, saying in a ruling issued yesterday that the law “as applied is a valid regulation of the time, place, and manner of Plaintiffs’ speech.’’

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Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office defended the law, said, “We are pleased that the court has upheld the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law, which enhances public safety and access to reproductive health care facilities, while preserving freedom of expression.

“The court agreed that the buffer zone leaves open ample opportunities for communication and civil engagement on the public ways outside the facilities,’’ she said.

The law creates a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around the driveways and entrances of clinics.

The lawsuit was brought by seven people who regularly engage in antiabortion counseling outside the three clinics. They filed suit in April 2008, claiming the law violated their rights of free speech, free association, due process, and equal protection.

Tauro split the case into two parts, the first a challenge to the law itself, the second a challenge to the law as applied.

In August 2008, Tauro ruled on the first challenge, upholding the law itself. The plaintiffs appealed, and the First US Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld Tauro’s ruling. The US Supreme Court declined to take the case.

Tauro held a bench trial in August 2011 on the challenge to the law as applied, then took the matter under advisement, issuing his 30-page ruling yesterday.

Tauro said that the law left “ample alternative means of communication, because protestors 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.’’

Michael J. DePrimo, attorney for the plaintiffs, had no immediate comment, saying he had not yet read the decision.

Martin Finucane can be reached at mfinucane@globe.com.
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