Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts law banning protesters within 35 feet of an abortion clinic is unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment.
The court said the buffer zone restricts access to sidewalks and other public space thereby preventing discussion and debate.
“The buffer zones serve the Commonwealth’s legitimate interests in maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and in preserving access to adjacent reproductive healthcare facilities,” the summary of the ruling says, according to CBS News. “At the same time, however, they impose serious burdens on petitioners’ speech, depriving them of their two primary methods of communicating with arriving patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature.”
Chief Justice John Roberts said in the ruling that the state could have enacted other laws that protect abortion clinic patients without restricting freedom of speech.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit by Eleanor McCullen and other anti-abortion rights activists, who stand outside of clinics to try to dissuade women from getting abortions. The plaintiffs argued that they are peaceful, non-confrontational, and do not obstruct access to abortion clinics.
Massachusetts argued that the buffer zone law enacted in 2007 aims to stop repeated incidents of violence and aggressive behavior’ at facilities. The state cited a 1994 shooting at one clinic that killed two people.
The state also argued that anti-abortion protesters can still talk with women before they enter the buffer zone.
Meanwhile, the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood said it will continue to shield women seeking abortions from aggressive protesters. Pro-life Americans United for Life said the Supreme Court rightly rejected this unlawful attempt to deny pro-life Americans their First Amendment rights.