While the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down Massachusetts' 35-foot buffer zone outside of abortion clinics, it did not find, as Justice Antonin Scalia hoped his colleagues would, that such zones cannot legally be established. The state Legislature has a month to come up with a new plan that protects the rights of everyone involved.
The 35-foot-zone replaced the so-called floating buffer zone, and the context of the creation of the protest-free zones should not be lost. It came after two people were killed and five others were wounded when a man opened fire at two Boston-area abortion clinics two decades ago this year. Sensibly, other cities and states have responded as Boston and Massachusetts did.
Even when there is no violence, women leaving and entering these clinics are subject to verbal abuse and harassment. The court case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court is centered around a facility in Boston operated by Planned Parenthood, which among its services provides health exams for women, cancer screenings, tests of sexually transmitted diseases and birth control, which makes unwanted pregnancies less likely. It is possible, if not likely, that many women who have been forced to run the abortion protester gantlet at Planned Parenthood were not there for abortions and could in fact have been as opposed to abortion as those who were haranguing and threatening them.
Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, suggested that Massachusetts could enact a state version of the federal law that prohibits people from blocking abortion clinic entrances. Thursday's ruling left in place a high-court decision from 2000 that upheld a bloating buffer zone in Colorado, and while this kind of zone is more difficult to establish and enforce than the firm zone that was ruled unconstitutional on free speech grounds, Massa chusetts could return to it.
The Supreme Court in its ruling went to considerable lengths to protect free speech, a cherished right of Americans. Hate speech, however, has not been protected by courts under the guise of free speech, and another Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, gave women the legal right to abortion, a right that took abortions out of the back alleys and saved the lives of untold numbers of women. When various rights conflict, as is the case here, all of them must be respected and a proper balance found.