Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Abortion Protesters to Get Hearing Supreme Court Agrees Again to Take Up Buffer Zones around Clinics

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Abortion Protesters to Get Hearing Supreme Court Agrees Again to Take Up Buffer Zones around Clinics

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether most demonstrators at abortion clinics in the Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., areas can be kept 15 feet away from the entrances, driveway and any patient or staff member.

Lower courts upheld the 15-foot buffer zone, challenged in 1990 as a violation of demonstrators' free-speech rights.

Monday's action was something of a surprise. The justices ruled in 1994 that judges can bar even peaceful protests from getting too close to abortion clinics and upheld a 36-foot demonstration-free zone around a clinic in Florida. Since then, the court consistently had refused to review challenges to similar limits on anti-abortion demonstrations.

"We're delighted to be given another opportunity to make our point," said Jay Sekulow, an anti-abortion lawyer. "I think it was the floating nature of this bubble zone that attracted the court's attention. I want to burst the bubble and allow free discussion."

Deborah Ellis of the NOW Legal Defense Fund called the court's action "unusual and worrisome." She guessed that the court may focus on that portion of a federal judge's order that allows two "sidewalk counselors" to penetrate the buffer zone to talk to patients but requires them to "stop and desist" if a patient expresses a desire to be left alone.

The court is likely to hear arguments in the case next fall and announce a decision next year.

In the lower court, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara imposed buffer zones in response to complaints that anti-abortion protesters of Project Rescue had intimidated, harassed and blockaded clinic patients and staff members in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.

The judge compared such demonstrations to "blockades" at which anti-abortion activists "yell at patients, patient escorts and medical staff entering and leaving the health care facilities." He said demonstrators "also crowd around people trying to enter the facilities in an intimidating and obstructing manner, and grab, push and shove the patients, patient escorts and staff. …

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