Supreme Court strikes down protest buffer zones around Massachusetts abortion clinics

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on narrow grounds struck down a Massachusetts law Thursday creating no-protest “buffer zones” on public property surrounding health clinics that perform abortions.

In what is a free speech dispute that touched on the larger political and social controversy over abortion, the court ruled unanimously. It did not strike down all such laws, but the ruling gives room for the state to go back and craft new, less restrictive protest zones.

Massachusetts officials said the issue was more about public safety and pedestrian access on local sidewalks. Anti-abortion supporters countered that their First Amendment rights were being violated.

The justices’ decision could affect a broader range of free speech arenas — over issues such as war, taxes, corporate bailouts and elections — where the location of the message is often key to its effectiveness.

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