Regina Salmons is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying English.
The ongoing debate over abortion has extended beyond hypothetical arguments into the real world. In McCullen v. Coakley, Eleanor McCullen and other pro-life protestors and self-proclaimed “counselors” petitioned against Attorney General Martha Coakley for the infringement of what they believed to be their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The petitioners argued that the required 35-foot buffer zones around women’s health clinics and abortion clinics designed to exclude these protestors infringed too heavily on their ability to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering the clinics. Additionally, they argued that “clinic escorts,” whose job it is to accompany patients seeking medical help through the buffer zones into the clinics, also prevented their right to free expression. Both the District Court and the First Circuit denied that the Act requiring the zones violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, ruled that the law did in fact violate the First Amendment because it limited free speech too broadly, as the sidewalks leading to the clinics are indeed public ground. Historically, politicians often used such sidewalks as platforms for free speech and campaigning, yet those forms of campaign were not usually violent or inflammatory. On the other hand, these protestors often block the entrances to the clinic, not allowing those seeking reproductive health services to enter the building. The response of the Court was that in those circumstances, which appeared to only occur on Saturdays, police officers could be called to disperse the crowds.
Though the decision in McCullen v. Coakley was announced in June 2014, the issues with which it dealt are still highly controversial and relevant almost two years later. This past November, a terrorist attack took place at a center run by Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services in the United States and abroad. Three civilians, including a police officer who was responding to the call, were killed after a radical Christian extremist opened fire at the clinic. Many others were injured in the gunfire and hospitalized as a result of a six-hour standoff between the gunman and the police.  The motive of the shooting was described by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains president Vicki Cowart in an article by CNN as “motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion."  These views mirror those of McCullen and other pro-life protestors, whose aim is to dissuade women from not receiving these services.
Americans pride themselves profusely on the constitutional right to freedom of speech. However, does this right to speak our minds exist infinitely without bounds or limitations? It is possible that there are areas where peoples’ right to free speech infringes too heavily on others’ rights to the pursuit of life and liberty, such as the right to receive medical treatment and health services without obstruction or harassment. Especially when the threat of violence and terrorism is so present in our current culture as a result of personal opinions on controversial topics such as this one, it is important to be considerate of the dangers of completely limitless free expression.
 McCullen v. Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts, No. 12-1168 slip op. at 1-6 (June 26, 2014) (Dist. file).
 Turkewitz, Julie, and Jack Healy. "3 Are Dead in Colorado Springs Shootout at Planned Parenthood Center." The New York Times. November 27, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/28/us/colorado-planned-parenthood-shooting.html?_r=0.
 "Source: Colorado Shooting Suspect Spoke of 'baby Parts' - CNN.com." CNN. Accessed January 23, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/29/us/colorado-planned-parenthood-shooting/.
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