US Supreme Court declines case surrounding reproductive health clinic ‘buffer zones’ News
MarkThomas / Pixabay
US Supreme Court declines case surrounding reproductive health clinic ‘buffer zones’

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider a case that would have restricted the use of “bubble” zones around abortion clinics, areas where protesters are not permitted. The court’s decision means that the buffer zones will remain in place.

The case under consideration involved Debra Vitagliano, a Catholic woman in Westchester County, New York, who claimed that her First Amendment right to free speech was violated by a local law prohibiting her from protesting or “counseling” within 8 feet of a person entering a reproductive health clinic. The petitioner assured the court she had only peaceful and educational intentions in wanting to approach pregnant people. The law would have authorized a fine or up to six months in prison, while repeated violations could have resulted in up to a year behind bars. Beckett Law, a religious freedom advocacy group, and 14 Republican attorneys general supported Vitagliano’s efforts.

However, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed Vitagliano’s challenge to the county’s ‘bubble zone’ law. The decision rested on Supreme Court precedent set from a nearly identical law in the 2000 case Hill vs. Colorado. Following the challenge, Westchester County repealed the law, citing difficulty in enforcement.

The creation of buffer zones around abortion clinics has been a contentious issue in the United States for decades. The Supreme Court previously turned away two challenges to buffer zones outside abortion clinics in Chicago and Pennsylvania in 2020 before the court overturned Roe v.Wade with its Dobbs decision in 2022.

“Buffer zones” or “bubble zones” were created around reproductive health clinics as a response to obstruction, vandalism, picketing, and other actions and to protect patients and employees of such facilities from threats and harassment. The issue remains controversial, and advocates on both sides have weighed in on the Supreme Court’s decision to decline the recent appeal.

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) reports that violence against reproductive health clinics grew exponentially higher in 2023, saying a recent report “shows a rise in major incidents like arson, burglaries, death threats, and invasions with burglary (231%), stalking (229%), and arson (100%) seeing some of the largest increases.”