Abortion clinics across the country are often the site of protests, demonstrations, and, in some cases, opponents trying to interact with the employees or patients walking inside or outside.
To prevent those protests and interactions from getting too close to the clinics and, by extension, potentially harassing the patients and employees and interfering with the clinics’ operations, multiple jurisdictions have enacted so-called “buffer zones” around the clinics. In essence, these laws prevent protesters or others from carrying out their activities within a certain distance of the clinic.
Plaintiffs in Chicago, Illinois, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had sought to have those buffer zones declared illegal, claiming that they violated protesters’ First Amendment rights to free speech.
In the Chicago case, the plaintiffs sought to overturn a law that made it illegal for a person within a 50-foot radius of an abortion clinic to come within 8 feet of another person “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling.”
In the Pennsylvania case, a local ordinance makes it unlawful for a person to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.”
Lower courts had rejected the plaintiffs’ requests to block the laws, and they challenged those decisions all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the Chicago case, a federal district court and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had each allowed the ordinance to stand, citing a 2000 Supreme Court decision upholding a similar law in Colorado as precedent. In the Pennsylvania case, the federal district court denied the request to block the law, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the earlier decision.
In declining to hear the Chicago and Pennsylvania cases, the Supreme Court justices effectively let those previously rulings stand, which means that the “buffer zones” remain legal.
Thursday’s decisions marked the second time this week that the Supreme Court, which has seen the addition of two Trump-appointed conservative justices — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — failed to deliver an abortion ruling that conservatives had hoped for. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, on Wednesday the court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.