The Supreme Court released another opinion in which the Justices unanimously voted that it is illegal to have 35 foot “buffer zones” around abortion clinics. The decision refers to a Massachusetts law that required protesters to be at least 35 feet away from the entrance to any abortion clinics. Massachusetts, however, is not the only state affected by the ruling. Several states across the country had similar laws, which have all been overturned by this ruling.
The Court based its decision on the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment right to free speech. The Court said that these buffer zone laws placed burden on the protesters who wished to exercise their right to free speech with regards to incoming patients. The buffer zone law was struck down because, on its face, the law was too restrictive and did not attempt to leave any avenue for the peaceful protesters to interact with people who are entering the clinic. The law was instead seen as a blanket infringement on the First Amendment rights of the protesters.
Some, however, say that these laws were necessary for the safety of the patients and staff at these abortion clinics. There has been a history of harassment, fights, and even fatal shootings in the past. Advocates of the buffer zone say that the law was meant for protection, and that the protesters were still able to speak their mind from a safe distance.
Even though the buffer zone law was overturned, this decision did not relate to laws regarding harassment within certain areas of abortion clinics. As harassment is not covered by the First Amendment, the laws restricting harassment near clinics can still be enforced. Advocates of the buffer zone laws say that they will start over, and attempt to find another way to ensure patient safety while staying in line with the most recent Supreme Court decision.