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On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts, saying it violates the First Amendment.

Massachusetts had argued that the buffer zone, which anti-abortion protesters said violated their speech rights, keeps patients and clinic staff safer. But the court ruled unanimously that Massachusetts went too far when it created 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics to keep demonstrators away from patients.

“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” the court’s decision read.

The decision united Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberals. The other conservative justices would have issued a more sweeping ban on laws that restrict abortion demonstrators.

“Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history,” Roberts wrote. While the state has an interest in public safety, it “pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers.”

Surprisingly enough, the ban on buffer zones to protect patients and providers is allowed when under different circumstances.

Earlier this year, the court ruled that an anti-war protester could be kept away from a California military base and that political protesters could be moved by Secret Service agents away from former President George W. Bush.

If you recall, the Massachusetts buffer zone was enacted because of past violence, disruption, and congestion at some of the state’s 11 reproductive health clinics. In 1994, two clinic employees were shot and killed.

But if that’s free speech, we’re in deep trouble.


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