Supreme Court Strikes Down Abortion Buffer Zones Restricting Protesters

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law Thursday that restricted demonstrators from coming within 35 feet of the doorway of an abortion clinic.

The high court said the “buffer zone” law violated freedom of speech.

Most buffer zones are eight to 15 feet, Politico reported. The Massachusetts 35-feet restriction included public areas like sidewalks.

“Here the Commonwealth has pursued [public safety] interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. The extent of the zones “burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the commonwealth’s asserted interests.”

Prolife activists hailed the decision, saying the First Amendment protects their right to peaceful protest and counseling women who enter abortion clinics.

“The court recognized our First Amendment rights, and now I’ll have a chance to speak to people one-on-one,” lead petitioner Eleanor McCullen told the Boston Globe.

Abortion rights advocates say the ruling threatens patient and staff safety.

“If you were a betting man, you would bet that they’ll all go,” said Roger Evans, senior counsel at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Justices ruled that other similar restrictions can be enacted in Massachusetts.

“They’ve approved the idea of this kind of law, just not the mechanism,” Jessica Silbey, a Suffolk University Law School professor, told The Globe. “It was too broad.”

The Obama administration told the court it would support any attempt to instate an alternative zone law in the state.

“While the court disagreed on this specific law, we are pleased that their ruling was narrow and that they recognized the possibility of alternative approaches, such as the federal law protecting a woman’s right to access reproductive health clinics,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “The administration remains committed to enforcing that law to the fullest.”

Sources: Politico, Boston Globe