In 2014, the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’s 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the case McCullen v. Coakley. In its decision, the Court focused on the local nature of clinic violence and therefore the potentially more appropriate response of localized policy solutions. The National Institute for Reproductive Health has worked with partners over the years to develop local policy strategies to address clinic violence and, post-McCullen, continues to encourage clinics and advocates to seek appropriate policy remedies for threats to patients and clinics in communities, while respecting the First Amendment rights of those who oppose abortion.

While some states and localities chose to stop enforcing their buffer zones in the wake of the McCullen v. Coakley decision, several are still being enforced and new policies have been put in place in some communities. This Community Trend documents how advocates and legislators have responded in crafting policy to protect clinic safety across the country.

Read Politico’s piece on clinic defense post-McCullen.

PS Mag also wrote about new strategies to defend clinics.

This article about McCullen discusses alternative zones that may still be constitutional in the
wake of the decision.

If you are an abortion provider who needs support in developing strategies to combat anti-choice harassment at your clinic, contact the National Abortion Federation or the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Action on Clinic Safety Post-McCullen

In June 2016, the Columbus, OH City Council unanimously passed the “Healthcare Workers and Patient Protection Ordinance.” The measure establishes a 15-foot zone around clinics, within which there are enhanced penalties for engaging in “disorderly conduct.” This ordinance also prohibits obstruction of clinic entrances and premises, and prohibits conduct within the buffer zone that “places another person in reasonable fear of physical harm, or attempts to do the same.” Councilmember Elizabeth Brown sponsored the ordinance, and the introductory text cites “the disturbing trend of increasing threats of violence and vandalism” at reproductive health care facilities as the explanation for the measure. Advocates, led by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, applauded the City Council for their efforts to protect patients and clinic staff from increasing anti-choice harassment.

In 2005, the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance that created a 15-foot fixed buffer zone and an 8-
foot floating zone around abortion clinics. However, a court ruled in 2009 while either option would be
constitutional on its own, the city could not enforce both zones simultaneously. After discussion with
key stakeholders, Pittsburgh elected to keep the fixed zone in place. After the McCullen v. Coakley
decision, protestors in Pittsburgh filed a new challenge against the buffer zone ordinance, but in March
2015, a federal judge upheld the zone, holding that the ruling in McCullen did not impact the
constitutionality of Pittsburgh’s law.

Read about the anti-choice challenge to the buffer zone, post-McCullen, here.

Women’s Law Project, a pro-choice champion of the buffer zone, circulated a press release after
the 2015 federal court decision.

RH Reality Check also covered the decision here.

In January of 2015, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance that outlawed interfering with
vehicular traffic in private driveways. This ordinance covers all driveways, but it was a response to antichoice protester activity that blocked Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho’s
driveway. The debate over the ordinance was heated, with pro- and anti-choice activists providing
testimony. After a two and a half hour public hearing, the ordinance passed 6-1.

The Inlander wrote about the anticipated controversy before the ordinance was heard at City

Read news coverage of the ordinance’s passage here and here.

Watch the City Council meeting here.


The state of Colorado has had a floating bubble zone within a fixed buffer zone in place since 1993. This
law prohibits protestors from coming within eight feet of a protestor once they are within 100 feet of a
clinic. The Supreme Court upheld the zone’s constitutionality in 2000 in the case Hill v. Colorado, and it is still being enforced after McCullen.

Read analysis of Colorado’s buffer zone after the McCullen decision here and here.

The Denver Post published an editorial in support of the law, post-McCullen.

After McCullen v. Coakley struck down the state’s 35-foot fixed buffer zone, pro-choice policymakers
acted quickly to pass a new law to protect safe access to abortion clinics. The Act to Promote Public
Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities passed only weeks after the decision.
This law prohibits anyone from threatening individuals outside of or blocking access to reproductive
health facilities. If the law is violated, police can issue a dispersal order that prevents the dispersed
protestors from coming within 25 feet of the clinic for eight hours or until the clinic closes.

Read about McCullen v. Coakley and its impact on Massachusetts.

Read about the passage of the new law here.

Read the Attorney General’s statement urging passage of a new law.

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts both
released statements celebrating the new law.

In response to anti-choice harassment outside of many of the city’s clinics, the New York City Council passed a clinic safety ordinance in 2009. The ordinance prohibits people following and harassing others within 15 feet of a reproductive health clinic. This law was cited in McCullen v. Coakley as an example of a less burdensome, and more narrowly tailored, clinic protection measure. In 2014, after McCullen, New York Attorney General Schneiderman issued a statement that the city’s ordinance would still be enforced.

Read the Attorney General’s statement here and the National Partnership for Women and
Families’ coverage of the statement here.

Read NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s press release praising the Attorney General’s statement.

The New York Times wrote about the Supreme Court’s praise of the law, as well as its downsides.


In 2013, San Francisco enacted an ordinance that created a fixed 25-foot buffer zone around
reproductive health facilities. After the McCullen decision, elected officials worked with Planned
Parenthood and the City Attorney’s Office to create a new ordinance more likely to withstand a
constitutional challenge. The new ordinance, passed unanimously by the City Board of Supervisors in the fall of 2014, combines many elements of other buffer zone laws. It makes it illegal to shout at or follow and harass people within 25 feet of a reproductive health clinic. Within this 25-foot zone, a protestor must stay at least 8 feet away from any person that requests they be left alone. If a protestor continues to harass patients after being asked to stay away, police can issue a dispersal order requiring them to stay at least 25 feet away from the clinic. Any protestors creating amplified noise, such as using
microphones or loudspeakers, must stay at least 50 feet away from the clinic.

Read about the officials’ process of working on the new law here and here.

RH Reality Check covered the new ordinance after its passage.

Read the ordinance text here.