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U.S. Opinions: San Jose

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Court should affirm abortion buffer zone law

From an editorial Wednesday in the San Jose Mercury News:

Four times in the past 12 years, anti-abortion groups have challenged the law creating 35-foot buffer zones around Massachusetts abortion clinics. Four times federal appeals courts have affirmed that right, arguing persuasively and properly that the law protects the rights of patients and clinic employees to safely access health care facilities without infringing on protesters’ First Amendment rights.

But the Supreme Court agreed to review the law in its new session, which began Monday, even though it upheld a similar Colorado law in 2000. It’s an alarming development, as many experts believe the addition of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the bench since then means the buffer zones may be ruled unconstitutional. That would put patients and health care providers at serious risk and be a major disservice to women seeking legal health care services.

“I’m a strong believer in free speech,” says Linda Williams, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves 40 counties in California and Nevada and is one of the largest Planned Parenthoods in the nation. “But when it degenerates into yelling and intimidation, I think it justifies putting certain limits on behavior. From 35 feet, people are certainly able to communicate their message.”

The limited number of buffer zone laws in the United States were not imposed on a whim. They were a response to increasing threats, and even deadly violence, used by anti-abortion protesters in the 1990s to disrupt the work of clinics. The buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down the volatile confrontations.

If protesters were able to maintain peaceful contact with patients, this wouldn’t be an issue. But the buffer zones exist because protesters routinely cross the line. The Supreme Court must preserve the rights of women to seek all health care services free from intimidation, threats and the potential for physical harm.

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