[Pro-life activist] McCullen’s activities were indisputably peaceable. Yet the Massachusetts law criminalized them. Had she approached a willing listener to discuss abortion in a covered zone, she would have been subject to three months’ imprisonment for a first offense, and two and a half years’ imprisonment for each subsequent violation. The statute also prevented McCullen from entering the covered zone to sing or pray quietly.
The Massachusetts law meant that “McCullen [was] often reduced to raising her voice at patients from outside the zone””a mode of communication sharply at odds with the compassionate message she wishes to convey.” The zones “also made it substantially more difficult for [her] to distribute literature to arriving patients.” The Court noted that these burdens “have clearly taken their toll,” citing undisputed testimony that the law substantially reduced the success of McCullen and her fellow litigants in persuading women not to terminate their pregnancies.
In striking down the Massachusetts law, the Court properly emphasized that “it is no accident that public streets and sidewalks have developed as venues for the exchange of ideas.” And responding to arguments from the state that the buffer zones helped with administrative enforcement, the Court noted that “the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”