Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Ruled Unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts law requiring protesters to remain 35 feet away from abortion clinic entrances is unconstitutional.

Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Ruled Unconstitutional
The Boston Globe

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics. 

The high court ruled unanimously that the 2007 law, which required demonstrators to remain 35 feet away from the entrances of abortion clinics, infringed on protesters' right to free speech and is unconstitutional. (Via MSNBC, NPR)

Writing for the court's opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's asserted interests." (Via CNN)

"Massachusetts had argued all along and during the arguments at the court that they were worried about violence at the clinics. They were worried about people showing up and haranguing women who may be seeking treatment or seeking an abortion." (Via Fox News)

State officials say that's because Massachusetts has a long history of violence and harassment at clinics. 

The New York Times notes confrontations at clinics came to a head in 1994 when a man went on a shooting rampage in Brookline, Massachusetts. The gunman killed two receptionists and injured five other people in the assault. 

In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld a similar law from Colorado that banned protesters from coming within 8 feet of people entering clinics.

But Massachusetts officials introduced the larger, fixed buffer area in 2007 after decrying the difficulty of enforcing those personal bubble zones. (Via WHDH)

A writer for USA Today explains although the ruling will obviously change things in the Bay State, it remains to be seen whether it could be applied broadly to other buffer zones or places of public protest. 

"It could open others to question, such as those outside polling places, political conventions, funeral services — even the court's own plaza."

Roughly a dozen cities nationwide have imposed similar fixed buffer zones around abortion clinics. The high court's ruling does not change the required 8-foot personal bubble established in 2000.