BOSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday again affirmed the constitutionality of a 2007 Massachusetts law that bars protests in 35-foot ‘‘buffer zones’’ around abortion clinic entrances, exits and driveways.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision said the law protects rights of prospective patients and clinic employees ‘‘without offending the First Amendment rights of others.’’
Abortion opponents who regularly stand outside clinics in Boston, Worcester and Springfield claimed the law unfairly keeps them from engaging patients in conversations at a closer distance.
The court acknowledged the country is ‘‘sharply divided’’ on abortion, but said ‘‘the right of the state to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter health care facilities cannot seriously be questioned.’’
The ruling upholds a district court decision last year turning down a challenge based on new Supreme Court First Amendment decisions.
The appeals court rejected a broader challenge to the law in 2009, and the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
The plaintiffs said they expect to appeal again to the Supreme Court.
‘‘The same rules have to apply to all speakers. The government cannot put peaceful pro-life speakers in jail, but give Planned Parenthood free rein on the same sidewalk,’’ attorney Mark Rienzi said in a statement to The Boston Globe.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said, ‘‘We have always believed, and the court agreed, that the buffer zone leaves open the opportunity for civil engagement on public areas around these facilities while ensuring that patients and health care providers can safely access these facilities.’’