Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc.

PETITIONER: Madsen et al.
RESPONDENT: Women's Health Center, Inc., et al.
LOCATION: Aware Woman Center for Choice

DOCKET NO.: 93-880
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 512 US 753 (1994)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1994

Drew S. Days, III - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Respondents
Mathew D. Staver - on behalf of the Petitioners
Talbot D'Alemberte - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Women's Health Center Inc. operated several abortion clinics throughout central Florida, including the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida. In 1992, in response to anti-abortion protesters, a state court prohibited the protesters from physically abusing those entering or exiting the clinic, or otherwise interfering with access to the clinic. About 6 months later, Women's Health Center Inc. expressed a need to broaden the court order. The state court agreed, banning demonstrators from entering a 36-foot buffer-zone around the clinic, making excessive noise, using images visible to patients, approaching patients within a 300-foot radius of the clinic, and protesting within a 300-foot radius of staff residences. Petitioner Judy Madsen and her fellow protesters claimed that these restrictions violated their First Amendment right to free speech, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed, upholding the court order.


1) Is the prohibition of all protesting within the 36-foot buffer zone around the front of the clinic an infringement of the First Amendment right to free speech? 2) Is the 36-foot buffer zone along the back and side of the clinic a breach of the First Amendment right to free speech? 3) Do the limitations imposed on noise-making constitute a breach of the First Amendment right to free speech? 4) Do the restrictions placed on the use of images violate the First Amendment right to free speech? 5) Is it a breach of the First Amendment right to free speech to bar protesters from approaching potential patients when they are within a 300-foot radius of the clinic? 6) Is it a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech to prohibit all protesting in a 300-foot radius of clinic staff residences?

Media for Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1994 in Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 93-880, Judy Madsen v. Womens Health Care Center.

Mr. Stavers.

Mathew D. Staver:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

Neither Judy Madsen, Ed Martin, nor Shirley Hobbs surrender their constitutional rights to free speech when they enter the speech free zone surrounding the Aware Clinic.

This case is about the right to peacefully display a sign and distribute literature in a traditional public forum.

Petitioners do not seek to trespass or blockade, nor are those portions of the injunction challenged here today.

In a nonpublic forum, this Court noted that one need not ponder the contents of a pamphlet or leaflet in order to mechanically take it from someone's hand.

Despite this Court's holding, the injunction totally bans literature distribution.

This Court recognized in Bray and in Casey that men and women of good conscience have common and respectable reasons for opposing abortion.

Indeed, abortion speech, or speech about abortion lies at the very core of the First Amendment.

If the First Amendment really means that speech must be uninhibited, robust, and wide open, the injunction must be dissolved.

The injunction violates petitioner's right to free speech because it is both viewpoint-based and a prior restraint, and because it lacks precision.

Viewpoint-based regulations like prior restraints come to this Court with a heavy presumption against their constitutional validity.

William H. Rehnquist:

Why do you say it's viewpoint-based, Mr. Staver?

Mathew D. Staver:

Your Honor, Mr. Chief Justice, the reason why it's viewpoint-based is, Judy Madsen is restrained once she enters the 300-foot buffer zone.

When she enters that zone, she can only speak if the listener favorably reacts to that speech.

When she enters this zone, the injunction states that she can only speak if someone approaches her, extends a hand, or she can continue to speak only if they show a positive interest in what she has to say.

Also, the injunction is specifically addressing Judy Madsen's speech, which in context is more than activities which it restrains, but goes to speech.

Judy Madsen's speech at the abortion clinic is clearly on the issue of abortion.

Judy Madsen had not been to this clinic prior to the entry of the injunction.

Now when she enters the speech-free zones--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what about the application of the 36-foot limit that just says you have to stay out of that?

Do you take the position that's content-based, or viewpoint-based?

Mathew D. Staver:

--Yes, Justice O'Connor, we do.

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Mathew D. Staver:

The reason is, is that Judy Madsen cannot ever enter that zone, whereas other individuals expressing a contrary view can.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, but on your theory, every injunction, whether it's in the labor context or any other context, would be viewpoint-based, and I don't think we've ever thought that injunctions of that type became content-based just because they were focused on a named individual, or a group of individuals.

Mathew D. Staver:

Justice O'Connor, it wouldn't be viewpoint-based on every injunction.

This injunction, for example, in sections (1) and (2) would clearly not be viewpoint-based.

Those restrain activities which we don't challenge, but the injunction the way it was drafted and the way--