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Will the Supreme Court Pop Abortion Clinic Bubbles?
Image: Natalie Maynor / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly allowed "buffer zones" that keep abortion protesters from approaching medical facility entrances. So the court surprised many observers when it agreed to hear a challenge to a Massachusetts "buffer zone" law on January 15.

Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for the pro-life plaintiffs, argues that the state's 2007 law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics and other health-care facilities exceeds the high court's ruling.

In its 2000 decision Hill v. Colorado, the Supreme Court upheld Colorado's so-called "bubble law" by a 6-to-3 vote. The law established a 100-foot zone in front of medical facilities and prohibited protesters from walking within an "8-foot bubble" of people.

"The Court allowed the restriction because the law had several key safeguards, all of which have been eliminated by the Massachusetts law," said Rienzi, a Catholic University of America law professor.

He declared the Massachusetts law "inescapably viewpoint-based"—and thus a violation of free speech—because it applies "only when and where abortion is allowed." It also lets staff promote abortion to potential patients in the buffer zone.

"These [laws] are being passed for one purpose: to shut down the speech of one opinion, which should be enough for the Supreme Court to reject them," said Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries.

But in upholding the Massachusetts law a year ago, an appeals court disagreed, saying the free speech protections were similar to those in Hill.

In general, the Hill ruling had little effect on pro-life activism, said Michael New, a University ...

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