KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Supreme Court Strikes Down Mass. Buffer Zone For Abortion Clinics

The state had banned protesters within 35 feet of abortion clinics but the ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts said that infringed on First Amendment rights.

The New York Times: Court Rejects Zone To Buffer Abortion Clinic
The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that barred protests, counseling and other speech near abortion clinics. "A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a majority opinion that was joined by the court's four-member liberal wing. ... State officials said the law was a response to a history of harassment and violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts, including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994 (Liptak and Schwartz, 6/26). 

The Boston Globe: Mass. Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Ruled Illegal
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that banned protesters within 35 feet of abortion clinics, ruling that the law infringed upon the First Amendment rights of antiabortion activists. The decision effectively overturns about 10 fixed-buffer-zone laws across the country, from San Francisco to Portland, Maine, but offers a framework for more limited restrictions around clinic demonstrations, legal experts said. "They've approved the idea of this kind of law, just not the mechanism," said Jessica Silbey, a Suffolk University Law School professor. "It was too broad" (Schworm and Sampson, 6/26).

The Hill: Pro-Abortion Rights Activists Regroup After SCOTUS Ruling
The Massachusetts attorney general and pro-abortion-rights activists are regrouping with state lawmakers and law enforcement after the Supreme Court overturned an abortion clinic buffer zone law. On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that found a Massachusetts law prohibiting protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics unconstitutional because it violated free speech rights. ... Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said she was disappointed with the ruling and said it re-opened the fight to protect women in the state from anti-abortion activists at health clinics (Al-Faruque, 6/26).

Politico: High Court Strikes Massachusetts Abortion 'Buffer Zone'
The court said the state law violated the First Amendment because its "buffer zone" limited speech too broadly, covering 35 feet from the doorway of facilities and including public areas like sidewalks. Although other buffer zones typically are smaller, specifying distances such as 8 feet or 15 feet from clinics, the advocates said the court's decision puts them in jeopardy. "If you were a betting man, you would bet that they’ll all go," said Roger Evans, senior counsel at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Haberkorn and Villacorta, 6/26). 

The Washington Post: Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s ruling was a narrow one, pointing out that other states and cities had found less-intrusive ways to both protect women entering clinics and accommodate the First Amendment rights of those opposed to abortion (Barnes, 6/26). 

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Invalidates State Law On Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
The Supreme Court on Thursday invalidated a Massachusetts law that required 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics, ruling the statute went too far in burdening the free-speech rights of antiabortion activists. The court's decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, could void similar measures in other cities and change how antiabortion activists approach women entering clinics. It is the latest victory for opponents of abortion, who have made significant gains in state legislatures in recent years restricting clinic operations (Kendall, Armour and Radnofsky, 6/26). 

Denver Post:  In Supreme Court Spike Of Abortion Protest Buffer, A Colorado Question
In a case followed closely by Colorado activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibits protesters from coming within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. The narrow ruling leaves intact a similar Colorado "buffer" law that passed in the 1990s, but opponents said the unanimous decision opens the door to future challenges. Broadly, the court determined the Massachusetts law violates protesters' freedom of speech because the 35-foot bubble includes sidewalks and other public places, which have "traditionally been open for speech ac tivities," according to the decision (Matthews, 6/26).

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