Score one for the Constitution! The Supreme Court just unanimously -- unanimously -- struck down a buffer zone law in Massachusetts. The law, instituted in 2007, barred protesters, counselors, quiet pray-ers, and even silent witnesses from coming within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. Only patients, clinic workers, and people passing through were allowed to be within the buffer zone. The law didn't wait until you proved that you were there to make trouble: it simply shut you out, assuming the guilt of private citizens.
In effect, the law created a First and Fourteenth Amendment-Free Zone for a certain class of people. It made it a crime for some citizens to be on a public sidewalk, or to say things in public. Today's decision reasserts that all citizens have equal protection under the law, and should enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. In short: you can be places and say things and not go to jail for it, even if you're a pro-lifer.
The Supreme Court said that, if clinics have a problem with pro-lifers blocking the clinic's entrance or harassing patients, they should ask for police assistance, or obtain court orders against troublemakers, just like any other organization. But they can't simply turn a whole class of citizens into criminals because the clinic is afraid they might try something at some point.
Here's the hidden irony of buffer zone laws: pro-choicers love to perpetuate the idea that pro-lifers are only at clinics to scream, shame, threaten, and wave gory signs. But buffer zone laws make it impossible for pro-lifers to do the things that pro-choicers presumably find acceptable: quietly, peacefully, respectfully offering choice and assistance directly to women. And there's the truth of the matter: pro-choicers don't want women to know that pro-lifers care about them. They don't want women to hear that there is another way besides the violent one. The truth is, buffer zone laws are not only anti-free speech, they're anti-choice.
A few weeks ago in my home state of New Hampshire, the governor signed a 25-foot buffer zone bill into law. The law has not yet gone into effect, and this ruling by the Supreme Court may ensure that it never does. This SCOTUS ruling is a clear victory for free speech, freedom of assembly, and equal protection under the law. It's a wonderful day for people who are truly pro-choice.