The case was brought by seven Massachusetts anti-abortion protesters, who have demonstrated outside the state's three abortion facilities in Boston, Springfield and Worcester. They said the buffer zone was unconstitutional and violates their right to free speech.At SCOTUSblog, Tom Goldstein summarizes the decision:
Lawyers representing Massachusetts had argued the buffer zones were necessary to stop women from being harassed or prevented from entering clinics by crowds of protestors, and insisted it was impractical to draft legislation that differentiated this from “peaceful conversation”.
The upshot of today's ruling is that an abortion clinic buffer zone is presumptively unconstitutional. Instead, a state has to more narrowly target clinic obstructions. For example, the police can tell protesters to move aside to let a woman through to the clinic. But it cannot prohibit protesters from being on the sidewalks in the first instance. If in practice protesters still are obstructing the entrance, then it can consider a broader restriction.If the state, he says, can build a record showing that those narrower measures to protect women's access to the clinic entrance aren't working, it can "more broadly ban abortion protests." Let's hope that it doesn't take more clinic bombings or murders of doctors, clinic staff, or patients to provide that evidence. A quick reminder of one of the reasons this Massachusetts law was passed in the first place:
A gunman dressed all in black stalked into two abortion clinics on the same street here this morning and started shooting, killing two receptionists and wounding five other people.
"Is this the Preterm clinic?" the gunman asked calmly at the second abortion center, stunned witnesses said. Then he reached into a duffel bag, pulled out a rifle and opened fire.
A clinic security guard, Richard J. Sarone, gave chase as the gunman ran from the clinic, situated in a medical office building in a quiet suburban area, but the man wheeled and fired, wounding the guard. Then the gunman vanished.