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Access to medical facilities

Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703 (2000)

Also under Abortions

Outcome:    Very favorable

Issue

The issue here was whether a Colorado statute prohibiting a non-consensual “knowing approach” of another person within 100 feet of a health care facility’s entrance was unconstitutional as a violation of the right to free speech.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the right of access to medical care and believes that health care providers have a fundamental right to freedom from violence.  The AMA opposes acts of intimidation that may impede physicians’ ability to care for their patients.

Case summary

In response to concern about aggressive anti-abortion protests outside facilities that performed abortions or provided abortion referrals, the Colorado legislature enacted a statute to restrict unwanted approaches toward those entering such facilities.  Anti-abortion activists challenged the constitutionality of the statute by suing to enjoin its enforcement.  The state trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that the statute imposed content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions that were narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.  Both the state appellate court and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed.

The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which also affirmed.  The Court held that the statute regulated place, not content, and properly protected listeners from unwanted communications.

AMA involvement

The AMA joined an amicus curiae brief with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to support the Colorado statute.

United States Supreme Court brief

McCullen v. Coakley (S.Ct.)

Also under Abortions and Patient privacy

Issue

The issue in this case is whether a Massachusetts statute making it a crime to enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk within 35 feet of an entrance to an abortion clinic in order to “counsel” those having abortions is constitutional.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the right of access to medical care and opposes acts of intimidation that may impede physicians’ ability to care for their patients. Further, the AMA believes that physicians should protect patient privacy in all its forms, including the physical privacy of patients and respect for their personal space.

Case summary

The plaintiffs in this case are “pro-life” sidewalk counselors and demonstrators, who characterize themselves as “peaceful” and “non-confrontational.” They park their cars near various abortion clinics in Massachusetts and attempt to persuade patients of the clinics not to have abortions. They festoon their cars with pro-life signage, carry placards and other signs, pray aloud, sometimes with the assistance of loudspeakers, and occasionally wear evocative garments (such as a costume of the Grim Reaper). Whey they can, they speak with prospective patients and hand out anti-abortion literature. The defendants are the Massachusetts Attorney General and various county prosecutors.

The plaintiffs are challenging a Massachusetts “buffer zone law,” which prohibits persons from encroaching within a specified distance of abortion facilities or the patients at those clinics. The plaintiffs contend that the Massachusetts law infringes their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Both the trial court and the United States Court of Appeals held the buffer zone law constitutional, but the plaintiffs are now appealing to the United States Supreme Court.  Oral argument in the Supreme Court was heard on January 15, 2014.

Litigation Center involvement

The Litigation Center joined the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. The brief argued that the buffer zone law is reasonable and does not unduly infringe the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to communicate with the abortion facility patients.

United States Supreme Court brief

McGuire v. Reilly, 260 F.3d 36 (1st Cir. 2001)

Also under Abortions

Outcome:    Very favorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a Massachusetts statute intended to keep pro-life demonstrators at a reasonable distance from persons seeking to enter abortion clinics violated the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.

AMA interest

The AMA supports the right of access to medical care and opposes violence and acts of intimidation directed against patients, physicians, other healthcare providers, and medical facilities, including abortion clinics.

Case summary

In response to concerns of violence, harassment, and intimidation outside medical facilities that perform abortions, Massachusetts enacted a statute which created a buffer zone to keep anti-abortion demonstrators at a reasonable distance from patrons seeking to enter abortion clinics.

The anti-abortion demonstrators challenged the constitutionality of the statute by seeking a preliminary injunction against its enforcement.  The district court granted the preliminary injunction and enjoined various Massachusetts government officials from enforcing the statute.  The defendants appealed to the First Circuit.

The First Circuit upheld the statute, reversing the low court decision.

AMA involvement

The AMA, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists joined in an amicus brief supporting the Massachusetts statute.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services v. Abbott,

Also under Abortions

Outcome:    Very unfavorable

Issue

The issue in this case was whether a Texas law imposed an undue burden on the right to abortion because it (1) required physicians who perform abortions to have medical staff privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortions are performed and (2) limited drug-induced abortions to the protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

AMA interest

The AMA supports (1) the right of access to medical care and (2) physicians’ right to practice ethical medicine, under which they should exercise their best medical judgment solely on behalf of their patients and without concern that such exercise will run afoul of non-medical, legal restrictions.

Case summary

Texas passed a law which required physicians who perform abortions to have medical staff privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortions are performed. In addition, the law limited drug-induced abortions to the protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the abortifacient drug mifepristone.

The trial court held that the law was facially unconstitutional, because it unduly burdened the right to an abortion. It found it was unnecessary for maternal health to require medical staff privileges as a condition of performing abortions, and doing so would make it substantially more difficult for many women to obtain an abortion. It further found that the FDA protocol for mifepristone was in contravention of established medical practice and that following the protocol could endanger women’s health. Thus, it enjoined enforcement of the law.

The Fifth Circuit found that the law had a rational purpose to protect women’s health. Furthermore, whatever burden the law imposed on the right to abortion was, for all but a small number of women, minimal. The court found the law facially constitutional except for a minor issue regarding the time it could become effective. It reversed the lower court injunction and the declaratory judgment.

AMA involvement

The AMA joined with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in an amicus brief supporting the lower court decision and opposing the Texas law.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit brief