This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 7 December, 2019
Advertisement

'Buffer zones' outside abortion clinics in the US have been ruled illegal

The ‘buffer zones’ meant anti-abortion protesters had to stay 35-feet from clinics.

Image: ASSOCIATED PRESS

THE US SUPREME Court has unanimously struck down the 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts, declaring it an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

Authorities have less intrusive ways to deal with potential confrontations or other problems that can arise outside clinics, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

Roberts noted that most of the problems reported by police and the clinics in Massachusetts occurred outside a single Planned Parenthood facility in Boston, and only on Saturdays when the largest crowds typically gather.

“For a problem shown to arise only once a week in one city at one clinic, creating 35-foot buffer zones at every clinic across the Commonwealth is hardly a narrowly tailored solution,” Roberts said.

He wrote the majority opinion after asking no questions, exceedingly rare for him, at the argument in January.

Roberts noted that no other state has a similar law and that he is aware of only five cities that have created fixed buffer zones around abortion clinics.

The ruling also left intact a high court decision from 2000 that upheld a floating buffer zone in Colorado.

While the court was unanimous in the overall outcome, Roberts joined with the four liberal justices to strike down the buffer zone on narrower grounds than the other, more conservative justices wanted.

In a separate opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia criticised Roberts’ opinion as carrying forward “this court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents.”

Scalia said state and local governments around the country would continue to be able to “restrict anti-abortion speech without fear of rigorous constitutional review.”

Still, abortion rights advocates lamented the new ruling and said it compromised the safety of women seeking abortions.

“This decision shows a troubling level of disregard for American women, who should be able to make carefully considered, private medical decisions without running a gantlet of harassing and threatening protesters,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Reaction to the buffer-zone ruling was predictably mixed.

Mark Rienzi, who represented the protesters, said, “The government cannot reserve its public sidewalks for Planned Parenthood, as if their message is the only one women should be allowed to hear. Today’s decision confirms that the First Amendment is for everyone, and that the government cannot silence peaceful speakers.”

Massachusetts officials who backed the buffer  zone said they would try to re-craft the law to address the high court’s concerns.

Eleanor McCullen Protester Eleanor McCullen stands at the painted edge of a buffer zone outside a Planned Parenthood location in Boston. Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The fight is just beginning again,” said state Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office had argued before the justices.

Roberts suggested that Massachusetts could enact a state version of the federal law that prohibits people from blocking abortion clinic entrances.

The buffer-zone case began when Boston-area grandmother Eleanor McCullen and other abortion opponents sued over the limits on their activities at Planned Parenthood health centres in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.

At the latter two sites, the protesters say they have little chance of reaching patients arriving by car because they must stay 35 feet not from the clinic entrances but from the driveway to those buildings’ parking lots. Patients enter the building through the parking lots, which are private property.

Planned Parenthood provides health exams for women, cancer screenings, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and abortions at its clinics.

The organization said that the buffer  zone has significantly reduced the harassment of patients and clinic employees. Before the 35-foot zone went into effect in 2007, protesters had been able to stand next to the entrances and force patients to squeeze by.

Read: US abortion rate at lowest since 1973 >

Read: US abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell found guilty of murder >

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Associated Press

Read next:

COMMENTS (33)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel