In Blow to Safe Abortion Access, Supreme Court Rejects ‘Buffer Zone’


Justices unanimously side with argument that safe zones around clinics violate protesters’ free speech

– Lauren McCauley

A sign warning of a buffer zone outside of a Planned Parenthood facility in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Andrea Germanos)

In a blow to safe access to reproductive health care services, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled (pdf) against a state effort to enforce a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.

“This decision turns back the clock to the days when women were too intimidated by protestors to seek medical care,” said Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Women’s health will suffer because of it.”

Ruling on McCullen v. Coakley, the justices unanimously sided with plaintiff Eleanor McCullen who argued that the buffer zone established by the Massachusetts Attorney General violates her First Amendment rights.

“Today the Justices made it more difficult for states to protect their citizens,” said Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Hogue noted that since 1991, anti-choice activists have committed eight murders and 17 attempted murders.

“The law was supported by public safety officials whose goal is to protect women, doctors, and clinic workers from the relentless harassment and intimidation that they face daily,” she added.

The law was implemented in 2007 after reports of intimidation, including pushing and shoving, outside of a Planned Parenthood in Boston.

Following the news, reaction came swiftly online as women’s rights advocates decried the court’s ruling.

As the ruling was handed down, women from across the country on Wednesday are meetingwith lawmakers to push for the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill, which currently has over 150 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, protects women’s health and constitutional right to safe abortion access and prohibits states from enacting laws that interfere with clinics’ abilities to provide essential, safe reproductive health care.

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