Example Of Essay On Major Legal Issue Of The Case
The case is about challenging the amended Reproductive Health Facilities Care Act of 2000 to include a clause that stipulated that there would be a 35 feet buffer zone around reproductive health care facilities. Consequently, anti-abortionists challenged this case because it was in contrary to the First Amendment. Parties involved included the advocates of abortions, anti-abortionists, and the Attorney General. Petitioners engaged women approaching the healthcare facilities in a bid to educate and counsel them on alternative ways that they could apply instead of abortion. The law of the 35-feet buffer zone restricted the presence of the petitioners near the facilities and consequently they were unable to fulfill their duties as counselors. McCullen represents the individual petitioners while Coakley represents the Attorney General and other Commonwealth officials.
Amendment of the Reproductive Health Facilities Care Act of 2000, as argued by the Attorney General is because of the inability to control the clashes between the advocates of abortion and the anti-abortionists. Evidence provided in the process involved videos depicting protesters not observing the initial 18-feet radius buffer zone. The case was heard in the United States Supreme Court. The opinion of the court was that the buffer zones had indeed been serving the interest of the government since there was too much burden on the First Amendments of the petitioners. Additionally, through the case it was established that there was no evidence of seeking less intrusive means to resolve the issues between the two conflicting groups. Further, the law was discriminative in the sense that it only restricted anti-abortion supporters but allowed clinic counselors to engage with prospective clients. The court in its ruling provided alternative ways that could be applied without violating the First Amendments rights of the individuals
One of the significant legal issue in the case was that the law violated the First Amendment rights. It was now a crime for petitioners to be within the 35-feet buffer zone around the reproductive health facilities. The 35-feet buffer zone around the reproductive health facilities restrained the ability of the anti-abortionists to counsel clients on alternatives to abortion. The denial of access to public walkways violated the First Amendment since the walkways have been used for public speech activities. However, representing the government, the attorney general noted that the previous law was not sufficient enough since there were protests increasing in surrounding areas of the reproductive health facilities.
The Act indicated that clinic employees and its agents working within their employment duties were exempted from the law, which was viewed by some to be favoring one side. The clinic workers could approach prospecting clients and convince them on why abortion is the right choice, whereas the anti-abortionist would not have a similar fair chance to do the same. Additionally, a contentious issue was the Act’s purpose of serving a significant government interest such a maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and ensuring access to the reproductive health facility is maintained. Consequently, this limited the petitioners’ ability to communicate with patients by denying them the ability to have conversations and distribute literature. The petitioners were placed in the same class as protesters.
The petitioners argue that the act is not content neutral. One of the reasons they provide is that through the Act, abortion-related speeches are discriminated against because the buffer zones are only established at clinics where the abortions are performed. . However, the court argues that the Act is not content based because if it were then enforcement authorities would have the right to scrutinize the message that is being conveyed by the petitioners. The petitioner views the choice to have specifically this Act apply to abortion clinics as one intended to regulate speech on the issue of abortion.
The second reason is that the Act provides exemptions to clinic employees from the buffer zone and in the process shows favoritism to one point of view of abortion. The petitioners are not limited to what they say but on the location of saying it. The respondent argues that the Act’s main purpose is to ensure public safety at reproductive health clinics, ensure unhindered use of sidewalks and provide patient access to health care. As such, the respondents do not want to restrict speech that is against abortion.
The court argues that the Act does not inherently discriminate against the petitioners by allowing an exemption for the clinics’ employees. Further, the to support this claim, the court argues that since the Act provides that the employees are limited by their scope of employment ensures that the workers only are limited to their employment duties.
Precedents and Statutory law cited
The main case referred to by the justices is the Hill v. Colorado. In the Hill v. Colorado case, the court ruled in favor of the Colorado Law that prohibited engaging with persons within 100 feet of abortion facilities. The ruling of the McCullen is expected to have an enormous effect on this case. The Reproductive Care Act of 2000 was modeled based on the Colorado law that the Supreme Court upheld in Hill v. Colorado based on the First Amendment challenge. However, the 2007 amendment of the Reproductive Care Act of 2000 was because of its inadequacy to reduce violations of the law.
In the McCullen v. Coakley case, there is mention of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the First Amendment is relied upon in the making of the final decision. The First Amendment aspect being contravened by the Massachusetts law is freedom of speech. Since early years, the public streets and sidewalks have been traditionally used for speeches on matters of public concern. The 35-feet buffer restricts individuals from engaging in conversations on abortion, which is a matter of great public interest.
Other special cases mentioned such as the Thomas v. Chicago Park Dist., are used to argue or seek the basis for issues raised in the petition such as exemption of the abortion clinic employees. Furthermore, the argument of content neutrality of the law is discussed by use of different cases
Impact on a major issue/the future or change from the past
The ruling of the case does not affect the abilities of clinic to seek state and federal assistance in terms of protection using approaches such as buffer zones. Courts can still grant injunctions based on specific circumstances that have been evaluated. As such, the use of floating buffer zone is still in effect and has not been overruled by the McCullen decision. Further, this is of particular importance since there may be protesters at the reproductive health clinics and safety of workers and those seeking health care is crucial. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (2), the decision is likely to have less impact on the reproductive health laws in New York since the state, local and federal laws control protestors. Consequently, the application of the New York Model may help solve the bulk of the issues involved in the McCullen Case.
Furthermore, based on the rulings, clinics that win injunctions are likely to incur high financial costs. They have to pay lawyers for services offered and continue paying them to ensure that their injunctions are defended; hence, the cost is borne by the patients visiting the clinics and the clinics. The trend may contribute to an increase in healthcare cost.
Despite all judges’ ruling in favor of the petitioners, there are cases of dissenting opinions. The court agreed that the law was content neutral hence there is no need to examine it under strict scrutiny. However, the Justice Scalia indicated that the law was content based hence analysis needs to be done under strict scrutiny. Additionally, Justice Alito in in agreement with the decision, indicated that the clause where the law exempts employees of the clinics was in fact providing evidence that the law is discriminating the anti-abortionists. Consequently, Alito suggested that it would be easier for the advocates of the abortion to interact and express their views to the clients within the buffer zone.
The First Amendment is quite significant in this ruling in the sense that denying a woman the opportunity talk to an anti-abortionist violates her First Amendment right. Justice Alito supports this statement and argues that such exemptions in the Act directly encourage viewpoint discrimination. It would also have been beneficial to the cause of the Commonwealth if they had first sought alternative means that were less intrusive. Subsequently, this would have provided more suitable defense in their cause, or they could have avoided the courts.
The ruling of the case has a likelihood of being misunderstood. In considering the safety of the doctors and women involved in abortions, such a ruling makes it even harder to protect them. Despite the fact, there are reasonable pro-lifers; some radical anti-abortionist groups may seek to harm the women and the doctors.
In declaring the Massachusetts law unconstitutional, the court seems to overrule the Hill decesion. However, not expressed explicitly by the Chief Justice, some of the justices make calls for Hill decesion to be overruled. The Chief Justice’s decision not to overrule Hill decision makes it unclear and may be seen to compromise the standards of the Supreme Court.
"FindLaw | Cases and Codes." FindLaw | Cases and Codes. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCullen v. Coakley Decision on Reproductive Health Clinic Access Laws in New York State” (2014) 1-3. PDF File
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