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June 29, 2014

In Our Opinion: Court's ruling on clinic limit is a risk

As stalwart supporters of the First Amendment, we should probably be happy with the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that struck down a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone at that state’s abortion clinics.

Any time the court’s liberals and conservatives are unanimous in defense of free speech, that’s a pretty cut-and-dried interpretation of the Constitution.

Still, as we look into the ruling, it basically is saying that it is all right for complete strangers to advise a woman what she can or can’t do with her own body as long as they are polite about it.

The potential for spoken, emotional and physical abuse of women who are employing their constitutional right to end their pregnancies concerns us a lot.

Yet, the ruling could have been a lot worse.

Conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas wanted to strike down the law because, they said, it illegally targeted abortion opponents.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who usually votes with the court’s conservative bloc — a notable exception being on the legality of Obamacare — joined with liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotamayor and Elena Kagan to give women at least a modicum of protection.

While Roberts — who wrote the majority opinion — said that a 35-foot no-talking or -standing zone that would prevent “quiet conversations” on public property was unconstitutional, he said that cities and states have the right to arrest anyone obstructing a clinic or bothering patients.

“The police appear perfectly capable of singling out lawbreakers,” Roberts wrote, citing a New York City ordinance that makes it a crime to “follow and harass” anyone within 15 feet of a “reproductive healthcare facility.”

The problem with that interpretation is that authorities are free to arrest clinic protesters who verbally or physically abuse women, but it is after the fact.

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