My Takeaway from SCOTUS’ Buffer Zones Decision

By Rima Regas

Various pundits, by now, have weighed in on today’s Supreme Court decision striking down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law for abortion clinics. To be sure, I don’t disagree that this decision will make it much harder for already vulnerable women to get the care they seek. To be sure, this is a blow to women. There is no doubt, were we talking about a buffer zone at clinics where men receive erectile dysfunction treatment, not only would buffer zones be just dandy, but walls would be mandated, for extra protection and privacy.

This unanimous decision implies that when there is a choice between women’s right to privacy or the right of a stranger to tell you about their beliefs, whether you are interested in hearing them or not, you have no right to choose to avoid it.

Strictly looking at the legal definition of Freedom of Speech, “The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction.”

When a woman chooses not to listen to someone else’s free speech, she does not curtail that individual’s ability to express a view. While there is a right to express a view, there is no right to force it on others. Essentially, what this decision does is curtail a state’s ability to ensure the privacy of the majority. This ruling should apply to any other kind of clinic. Should, for some reason in the future, a group decide to intercept patients at psychiatric clinic to express their views on the benefits of receiving guidance from a member of the clergy, rather than a psychiatrist, how would this decision not side with that group’s so-called right to free speech? Would it be acceptable to force people who, presumably, are psychologically vulnerable and on their way to treatment, to have to listen to such free speech?

My gravest concern with today’s decision is that it was unanimous. Two Justices, Sotomayor and Ginsberg, over just this past year, made worrisome comments about abortion. We know nothing about the third female justice and her views. Those comments garnered very little attention from the press, on either side of the political divide. It’s bad enough that our nation’s highest court doesn’t represent, exactly, the gender makeup of our nation. There are two women on the court. But that the two women we do have seem to be as blind as their male counterparts to the need of ALL kinds of women, for all kinds of reasons, in all kinds of situations, is unacceptable.

The next nominee to the US Supreme Court should be a woman who is closer to a millenial than a Boomer, one who, preferably, is still in her child-bearing years and open to interpreting the law with Americans of all ages, religions (or lack thereof), and economic status.

Free Speech doesn’t trump all. Not being able to accost someone on their way into a clinic is not synonymous with the curtailment of Free Speech. Free Speech doesn’t include or imply a duty to listen. It merely gives the right to the speaker to express their opinion. Free Speech is already limited in certain cases in the law. Free Speech cannot trump privacy. Free Speech cannot be a legal means of harassment. Today’s decision, in essence has given the few the right to harass. It cannot be right.


Further readings:

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts’ abortion buffer zone law on Thursday, ruling in favor of anti-choice protesters who argued that being required to stay 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to safeguard women’s access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.

“By its very terms, the Act restricts access to ‘public way[s]‘ and ‘sidewalk[s],’ places that have traditionally been open for speech ac­tivities and that the Court has accordingly labeled ‘traditional public fora,’ ” the opinion states. “The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests.”

Curated from

Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely perceived as a swing vote on abortion, thanks to his decision to retain the “essential holding of Roe v. Wade” in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But this perception of Kennedy is misplaced. Since becoming a justice, Kennedy voted to strike just one of the 21 abortion restrictions that have come before the Supreme Court, and that one restriction was in Casey itself. Thus, Kennedy has not voted to block a law limiting access to abortion for the last 21 years.

Curated from



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