Jill Stanek prays outside Supreme Court before buffer zone abortion clinic decision; pro-lifeRead the background for this case here.

Today, in a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law, which banned pro-life advocates from entering a 35-foot restricted-speech zone around the entrance of abortion clinics. Read the decision here. Details, from USA Today:

The decision united Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberals, who said the distance improperly removed demonstrators from public sidewalks and spaces. The other conservative justices would have issued a more sweeping verdict, striking down the ban on grounds that it targets abortion opponents’ specific point of view….

Although the court had upheld an 8-foot buffer zone in Colorado in 2000, the Massachusetts law passed in 2007 went 27 feet farther.

The Colorado case was Hill v Colorado, wherein by a 6-3 decision SCOTUS ruled that zone constitutional (six were: Breyer, Ginsburg, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Stevens, Souter; three were Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas).

About that Hill decision, per Scotusblog.com:

Scalia says in his concurring opinion that Hill should be overruled….

The S. Ct. majority says nothing about its prior buffer zone ruling in Hill, the validity of which now seems in real question….

[T]here would seem to be a real question whether Hill would come out the same way after this….

Other pro-abortion buffer zone dominoes to fall?

That domino indeed may fall, along with others. Justice Roberts stated in his opinion (page 23) that five localities may be immediately impacted. Those might be, quoting from the New York brief:

As with the Mass state law, the law of Burlington, which is also fixed and 35 feet is probably unconstitutional; Portland ME (39 ft), likely unconstitutional; San Francisco has 25 feet, likely unconstitutional; Pittsburgh has 15 feet, possibly unconstitutional, and Santa Barbara has 8 foot, possibly unconstitutional. 

Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer zone law struck down; targeted pro-life proponentsThere is also the  Chicago 8-foot buffer zone law and a new New Hampshire 25-foot buffer zone law scheduled to take effected within 30 days.

Thursday’s ruling opens the door to multiple pro-life challenges.

Abortion access remains ensured

The decision does allow wiggle room. Quoting Scotusblog.com again:

The abortion protests ruling is relatively narrow. The Court makes clear that states can pass laws that specifically ensure access to clinics. It holds that states cannot more broadly prohibit speech on public streets and sidewalks….

[A] state has to more narrowly target clinic obstructions. For example, the police can tell protesters to move aside to let a woman through to the clinic. But it cannot prohibit protesters from being on the sidewalks in the first instance. If in practice protesters still are obstructing the entrance, then it can consider a broader restriction….

[T]he Court seemingly leaves no room for a law requiring as a general matter buffer zones of any size around the clinics — it lists all manner of alternatives, including court orders tailored to a specific clinic’s problems, that will be a more narrowly tailored way of responding to the State’s legitimate concerns.

[Top photo is of me praying outside the Supreme Court building this morning; bottom photo is of a now unconstitutional buffer zone yellow line around a Massachusetts Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, via Boston Globe]; thanks to Americans United for Life for analysis included in this post]

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