BOSTON (CN) – Anti-abortion protesters have no basis, the First Circuit agreed, to challenge a New Hampshire buffer-zone law that has never been enforced in its two-plus years on the books.
Signed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan in 2014, the text of the law allows, but does not require, pregnancy clinics to establish 25-foot buffer zones around their entrances and exits.
Just 16 days after its passage, however, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Massachusetts with the 2014.
Mary Rose Reddy and six activists brought their federal complaint against New Hampshire’s law later that year, saying it infringed on their First Amendment right to protest at clinics.
Although the Massachusetts law was more rigid in that it automatically established the buffer zones, the New Hampshire protesters argued that their state’s regulation would prevent them from campaigning on public sidewalks.
“Unless this court grants plaintiffs preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, the plaintiffs’ leafleting and personal education activities on the sidewalks and streets will be squelched throughout the entire state of New Hampshire, causing irreparable harm to their freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” their complaint alleged.
A federal judge nevertheless dismissed the suit as premature, and the Boston-based First Circuit affirmed on Jan. 11.
“Because the plaintiffs have not alleged a present chill, and because they have failed to allege the contours or location of any buffer zone, or why such a zone was created, we have no ripe case to adjudicate and no facts that would allow us to fashion judicial relief,” U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for a three-person panel.
Michael Tierney, an attorney for the activists with the Manchester firm Wadleigh Starr & Peters, said they may still seek Supreme Court relief.
“An unconstitutional law shouldn’t remain on the books just because abortionists haven’t taken advantage of the power the law gives them to silence free speech,” Tierney said in a statement. “The 1st Circuit’s decision made no determination as to whether the New Hampshire statute would pass constitutional muster. Instead, the court left the law in place without further scrutiny unless and until an abortion business wields it. For that reason, we are considering our next legal steps.”
The national anti-abortion group Alliance Defending Freedom also supported the activists on brief.