The US Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a case on protest-free buffer zones for abortion clinics.
The case involved an ordinance in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that prohibits protesters from demonstrating within 15 feet of abortion clinics. The plaintiffs were religious, pro-life, sidewalk counselors. They contended that they did not demonstrate under the ordinance and instead “offer[ed] women entering and leaving the clinic information about abortion alternatives, post-abortion resources, prayer, and personal support.” They also argued that the ordinance bars their First Amendment-protected speech.
In denying the petition for certiorari, Justice Clarence Thomas cited complex preliminary questions as the reason for the refusal to hear the case. He wrote:
The city of Pittsburgh, like many jurisdictions, has created “buffer zones” around abortion clinics. These zones often impose serious limits on free speech. Many even prohibit certain one-on-one conversations. In 2000, we upheld one such law, determining that it survived under the First Amendment because it satisfied intermediate scrutiny. Our use of intermediate scrutiny there, however, “is incompatible with current First Amendment doctrine as explained in Reed and McCullen.” For example, these more recent decisions establish that strict scrutiny is the proper standard of review when a law targets a “specific subject matter … even if it does not discriminate among viewpoints within that subject matter.” I agree with the Court’s decision not to take up this case because it involves unclear, preliminary questions about the proper interpretation of state law. But the Court should take up this issue in an appropriate case to resolve the glaring tension in our precedents.
The Supreme Court could still take up a case over this issue at a later time.