Maine Allowed to Limit Noise Outside Abortion Clinics

Like most states, Maine is no stranger to abortion-related protests–both pro-life and pro-choice. Sometimes these protests can turn violent.

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A protester outside a Planned Parenthood in Portland, Maine. (Troy R. Bennett, BDN)

In 1995, Maine enacted a law making it illegal to make noise that can be heard inside a building with the intent “to jeopardize the health of persons receiving health services within the building,” or with the intent “to interfere with the safe and effective delivery of those services.” When it was passed, the law received broad support from both pro-life and pro-choice groups.

Last year, Andrew March–a Christian pastor and the founder of a church called Cell 53–sued, claiming that the law violated the First Amendment. Specifically, March argued that the law was content-based because one can only “interfere with” or disrupt health services if one’s message is contrary to those medical services. Laws that restrict speech in public fora–like streets, parks, and sidewalks–based on the content of the speech are almost always unconstitutional.

Although the District Court agreed with March and found the law unconstitutional, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals found that the law was not content-based because it applies “to noise on any topic or concerning any idea.” The Court of Appeals found the law to be valid, noting that “the government may enforce reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of speech in order to protect persons from unduly burdensome noise.”

Case: March v. Mills, 867 F.3d 46 (1st Cir. Aug. 8, 2017) (opinion here)

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