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Case

McCullen v. Coakley

Last Updated: 5/1/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • The freedom to express your views on public property.
  • The freedom to engage in peaceful prayer and speech outside of abortion facilities.
  • The freedom to engage in public debate.

Summary

For many years, Eleanor McCullen has witnessed to women and men entering the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Boston, Massachusetts, saving countless lives from abortion. Her success caught the attention of the Commonwealth’s abortion facilities. In 2007, Planned Parenthood successfully lobbied the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to create a statewide 35-foot “buffer zone” around the entrances to abortion facilities. Eleanor and her fellow sidewalk counselors were required to stay outside of that zone, which effectively meant calling out to women entering the abortion facility from the middle of a busy street. For six years, Eleanor had nowhere to stand but in the street, or on the opposite side of the street from Planned Parenthood.

Eleanor filed a lawsuit challenging the Massachusetts law for violating her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The lower courts rule against her, but Eleanor pushed forward with her case. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court declared that the law violated the First Amendment in a 9-0 victory. The buffer zone was ruled unconstitutional. The law she challenged is similar to laws in other states, where government officials have made their own efforts to silence voices for life. Now, because of Eleanor’s victory, many of those states are also changing their laws and letting sidewalk counselors speak freely again. Eleanor is free again to stand on the sidewalk outside of Planned Parenthood, providing support and empowerment for women to choose life for their unborn children. 

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom provided the funding for the case, and three of the ministry’s allied attorneys represented the peaceful sidewalk counselor Eleanor McCullen in her challenge to the Massachusetts law.   

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Resources

Legal Documents

Court
Title
Date
{"docs": [{"Court": "TrialCourt", "Title": "Complaint", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/mccullen-v.-coakley/mccullen-v-coakley---complaint.pdf", "Date": "10/31/2017 5:12:59 PM"}, {"Court": "SupremeCourt", "Title": "U.S. Supreme Court oral argument transcript", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/mccullen-v.-coakley/mccullen-v-coakley---u-s-supreme-court-oral-argument-transcript.pdf", "Date": "10/31/2017 5:12:59 PM"}, {"Court": "SupremeCourt", "Title": "U.S. Supreme Court opinion", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/mccullen-v.-coakley/mccullen-v-coakley---u-s-supreme-court-opinion.pdf", "Date": "10/31/2017 5:12:59 PM"}, {"Court": "AppellateCourt", "Title": "2009 opening brief filed with 1st Circuit", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/mccullen-v.-coakley/mccullen-v-coakley---2009-opening-brief-filed-with-1st-circuit.pdf", "Date": "10/31/2017 5:12:59 PM"}, {"Court": "SupremeCourt", "Title": "Petition for certiorari", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/mccullen-v.-coakley/mccullen-v-coakley---petition-for-certiorari.pdf", "Date": "10/31/2017 5:12:59 PM"}]}
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