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Won U.S. Supreme Court

McCullen v. Coakley

Eleanor McCullen sitting on a bed with baby clothes


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.

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.

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.

Case Documents

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court
Trial Court

Additional Resources

Case Profiles

Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman
Senior Counsel, Director of Regulatory Practice
Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel and director of regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.