The Supreme Court today unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that required a 35-foot protest-free "buffer zone" around abortion clinics, saying that the statute violated the First Amendment rights of pro-life protestors. The ruling in McCullen v. Coakley also has implications for municipalities that have imposed their own "buffer zone" laws around abortion clinics.
The 2007 law aimed to keep protesters least 35 feet from the entrances of abortion clinics to prevent confrontations, but the US Supreme Court ruled that it went too far and prevented the free speech of law-abiding abortion opponents who want 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 without limiting people’s free speech.
The opinion stated that the law was unconstitutional as it blocked free speech demonstrations on public roads and sidewalks, in addition to singling out abortion clinics as opposed to any other health facility. The Court affirmed that the law was far too broad and was a substantial burden on the free-speech rights of pro-lifers for what the law was intended to accomplish. Pro-life sidewalk counselors in Massachusetts were unable to have conversations with or distribute literature to women who were seeking abortions as a result of this law.
A state is not prohibited from creating laws that are tailored to a particular clinic, but the broad law challenged in this case was ruled to be unconstitutional.
Twitter had mixed reactions regarding the decision:
I'm incredibly disappointed not only in the buffer zone decision, but also that it was unanimous.— amy tannenbaum (@grrrlrevolution) June 26, 2014
Being against abortion does not nullify one's freedom of speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Kudos to the Supreme Court for pointing out the obvious.