Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Law Struck Down

The nation’s highest court today struck down a Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics.

The US Supreme Court ruled that the state law violated the First Amendment, restricting access to public ways and sidewalks, places that are traditionally open for free debate. The government’s ability to regulate speech in such areas is limited, the justice said in a unanimous decision. 

“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” the court said.  

The 2007 law aimed to keep protesters at least 35 feet from the entrances of abortion clinics to prevent confrontations, but the court ruled that it went too far and prevented the free speech of law-abiding abortion opponents who wanted to approach people going to the clinics.

The high court’s justices had indicated when they heard the case in January that the state needed to find other ways to address safety concerns and prevent the opponents from impeding access to clinics.

The decision pointed out that one subsection of the law itself bans deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. It also said Massachusetts could model a state law on a 1994 federal law that bans obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services.   See story