Supreme Court Eliminates Buffer Zones at Abortion Clinics

The Supreme Court today rejected Massachusetts' effort to enforce a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.

The 9-0 decision is a free-speech victory for opponents of abortion. It upholds the rights of “sidewalk counselors” who wish to speak to young pregnant women to persuade them against having an abortion.

The ruling is a setback for women's health clinics that have tried to prevent protesters from blocking their doors. The state Legislature adopted a broader buffer zone in 2007 in response to reports of protesters pushing and shoving near the door of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston.

But judges have been divided over whether such no-protest zones violate the 1st Amendment.

The Supreme Court in 2000 had upheld an eight-foot buffer zone in a Colorado case, but over vehement dissents from Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They insisted this restriction on public sidewalks violated free-speech principles.

The new case, McCullen vs. Coakley, was brought by Eleanor McCullen, a 77-year-old grandmother who seeks to talk to women before they enter the Boston clinic.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Black women account for 30% of abortions. The safety of these women is now at risk.

Photo Credit: Reuters

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