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Supreme Court rules abortion clinic buffer zone unconstitutional

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. The court overturned today a Massachusetts law barring protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics.
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. The court overturned today a Massachusetts law barring protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Supreme Court struck down a controversial abortion clinic buffer zone as unconstitutional on Thursday. In a rare unanimous decision, they ruled that the Massachusetts law, which prohibited protests within 35 feet of an abortion clinic, was an infringement on the First Amendment.

This type of law is not uncommon in the US. In fact, there is even a federal law prohibiting the obstruction of someone entering such a facility. Additionally, several states have enacted laws, and so have many municipalities, to protect people and facilities that provide reproductive services.

Certain types of buffer zone laws are still allowable, most notably so-called “floating” buffer zones, where the person entering the clinic can not be approached too closely. Additionally, it will still be illegal to threaten employees or damage the property of such places.

The ruling, though unanimous, was arrived at for different reasons by the conservative and liberal factions on the court. Justice John Roberts agreed with the left leaning judges, citing that the law was written far too broadly to deal with a fairly narrow issue.

"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.

Justice Antonin Scalia had a different take. “Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function that the First Amendment allows the government to undertake in the public streets and sidewalks,” Justice Scalia said. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined the concurrence.

It seems all but certain that Massachusetts will enact another law, as they still feel the need to protect public safety, as clashes with protesters have become violent in that state in the past.