Protests in Highland Park, St. Paul, Minn., 2010
Protests in Highland Park, St. Paul, Minn., 2010


Credit: Fibonacci Blue, on Flickr, under Creative Commons 2.0

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Pro-choice activists fired off press statements Thursday criticizing the Supreme Court’s June 26 unanimous ruling to allow protests near abortion clinics in Massachusetts.

“The Court is giving extremists freer rein to intimidate and harass women,” said Judith Lichtman, senior advisor of the National Partnership for Women and Families. She added that the ruling in McCullen vs. Coakley makes it harder for women to safely access the reproductive health care they need.

The decision strikes down a state law that barred protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics, reported June 26. The 2007 law, which followed two shootings in Massachusetts-based clinics in 1994, was designed to protect clinic visitors from harassment and violence. The court agreed that the law was unconstitutional, but justices disagreed on the reasoning. While liberal justice Elena Kagan objected to the large size of Massachusetts’ buffer zone, Chief Justice John Roberts focused on the essential element of free speech.

The decision casts a cloud over Colorado’s so-called Bubble Law, the reported June 26. That 1993 law, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2000, sets up a floating 8-foot zone anywhere within 100 feet of a clinic.

Advocacy groups, using #protectthezone, took to Twitter in a storm of protest.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, joined the Twitter outcry.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she is to develop a new bill to protect women from harassment at Planned Parenthood centers.

The American Civil Liberties Union took a more neutral stance.

“The majority opinion reflects the difficulty and importance of balancing two constitutional rights,” said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “A fixed buffer zone imposes serious First Amendment costs, but we also think the Court underestimated the proven difficulty of protecting the constitutional rights of women seeking abortions.”

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