[JURIST] Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick [official profile] on Tuesday signed a bill [press release] which mandates that abortion clinic protesters stand no closer than 35 feet from entrances of reproductive health care facilities. The new law [SB 1353 text], now one of the nation's strictest on clinic protesters, amends Massachusetts' 2000 floating buffer-zone law [text], which established specific restrictions in the 18-foot radius around reproductive health care facility entrances. The restrictions within that zone disallowed people from knowingly coming within six feet of other people without their consent. Protesters reportedly violated the law frequently, but the difficulty of proving consent consistently prevented successful prosecution. The state legislature designed the new fixed-zone law, which passed through the House 122-28 and through the Senate unanimously, to protect both the safety of patients and health care providers and the protesters' freedom of expression.
The nation's only tougher fixed-zone bill is the 36-foot buffer zone around a single clinic in Melbourne, Fla. A handful of other clinics and cities, as well as Montana and Colorado, also have buffer-zone laws, but Massachusetts' move to the 35-foot fixed zone still gives the state one of the nation's strongest buffer-zone laws. State lawmakers began campaigning [Globe report] for clinic zone laws in 1994 after a man killed two people and wounded five after opening fire in reproductive health clinics outside Boston. The state passed the floating buffer zone law in 2000, and the law was challenged the next year. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] ruled that buffer zones did not violate the First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly. Reuters has more.