DENVER — The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a law in Massachusetts that established a 35-foot buffer no-protest zone around abortion clinics. The law was based in part on Colorado’s “bubble bill,” a first-in-the-nation law passed in 1993 that set up a floating 8-foot zone anywhere within 100 feet of a clinic.
The Supreme court upheld Colorado’s bubble law in a 2000 ruling, but today’s ruling has raised new questions about the fate of Colorado’s law.
“Colorado struck a good balance in the law by protecting both free speech rights and the rights of patients and providers. The bill we passed set the standard. Women should be able to access health care without being threatened and harassed. Providers should be able to go to work without running a gauntlet,” said Karen Middleton, of NARAL pro choice Colorado, in a release following this morning’s decision.
Although the judges voted unanimously (9-0) to knock down the Massachusetts law, they upheld Colorado’s earlier standard. The question of the day, even among more liberal, female judges like justice Elena Kagan, appeared to be how much space around a patient or employee entering a clinic is appropriate and how much is a violation of pro-life petitioners’ freedom of speech.
“[I’m] a little hung up on why you need so much space,” Kagan told Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Miller, according to SCOTUS blog.
The plaintiffs in the case argued that their goal was not to harass women but to speak quietly with them about alternatives to abortion, something they have had difficulty doing from across the street or down the block.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, where he specifically notes the importance of public spaces in civil discourse:
“It is no accident that public streets and sidewalks have developed as venues for the exchange of ideas,” he wrote. “Even today, they remain one of the few places where a speaker can be confident that he is not simply preaching to the choir.”
[ Clinic protest image from LiveSoMa ]