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Colorado's Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone' Stays Intact After Supreme Court Ruling

DENVER (CBS4)- The buffer zone will remain in effect at abortion clinics across Colorado after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 35-foot buffer zone at clinics in Massachusetts.

The high court declared that buffer zone was an unconstitutional restraint on free-speech rights of protesters.

The ruling also left intact a high court decision from 2000 that upheld a six-foot floating buffer zone in Colorado.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers addressed the Supreme Court ruling.

"The Supreme Court today issued a ruling declaring a Massachusetts law that imposed as 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to be a violation of the First Amendment. Basically they said it was too broad and wasn't sufficiently narrowly tailored to deal with the problem of people interfering with people wanting to go into an abortion clinic. Of interest is that Colorado won a case in the Supreme Court years ago in which we have kind of a six-foot floating buffer zone so people can't get within six feet of a person who is trying to go into an abortion clinic. And the court didn't do anything that would adversely impact that. The Colorado law stays in effect. But they said a flat 35-foot buffer zone was overly burdensome on protesters and their free speech rights," said Suthers.

The buffer-zone case began when Boston-area grandmother Eleanor McCullen and other abortion opponents sued over the limits on their activities at Planned Parenthood health centers in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.

At the latter two sites, the protesters say they have little chance of reaching patients arriving by car because they must stay 35 feet not from the clinic entrances but from the driveway to those buildings' parking lots. Patients enter the building through the parking lots, which are private property.

Planned Parenthood provides health exams for women, cancer screenings, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and abortions at its clinics.

The organization said that the buffer zone has significantly reduced the harassment of patients and clinic employees. Before the 35-foot zone went into effect in 2007, protesters had been able to stand next to the entrances and force patients to squeeze by, Planned Parenthood said.

Before 2007, a floating buffer zone kept protesters from approaching unwilling listeners any closer than 6 feet if they were within 18 feet of the clinic. The floating zone was modeled after a Colorado law that the Supreme Court has upheld. That decision was not called into question in Thursday's ruling.

"For a problem shown to arise only once a week in one city at one clinic, creating 35-foot buffer zones at every clinic across the Commonwealth is hardly a narrowly tailored solution," Roberts said. He wrote the majority opinion after asking no questions — exceedingly rare for him — at the argument in January.

In a separate opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia criticized Roberts' opinion as carrying forward "this court's practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents."

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