The Supreme Court today overturned the Massachusetts law that set a buffer zone around abortion clinics as a violation of the First Amendment of protesters.
In its ruling, the court said the buffer zones prevented "personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives" to abortion, in violation of the First Amendment and that, in fact, by pushing what the court said were not "protesters" back 35 feet, actually encouraged "vociferous opponents of abortion" with particularly loud voices to scream out their protests.
Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to thefederal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994, 18 U. S. C. §248(a)(1), which imposes criminal and civil sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of clinic driveways can readily be addressed through existing local traffic ordinances. While the Commonwealth contends that individuals can inadvertently obstruct access to clinics simply by gathering in large numbers, that problem could be addressed through a law requiring crowds blocking a clinic entrance to disperse for a limited period when ordered to do so by the police. In any event, crowding appears to be a problem only at the Boston clinic, and even there, only on Saturday mornings.
The ruling is another Supreme Court loss for Attorney General Martha Coakley (also see the Melendez-Diaz case).