The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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February 20, 1997: Supreme Court Affirms Right of Anti-Abortion Protesters to Confront Patients, Medical Personnel

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court rules that anti-abortion demonstrators have the right under the First Amendment to confront pregnant women outside health clinics and “strongly urge” them not to have abortions. The decision casts doubt on an array of city ordinances and judicial orders barring protesters from confronting doctors, nurses, and patients outside clinics. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, rules that there is no “generalized right to be left alone on a public street or sidewalk.” Rather, picketing, leafleting, and loud protesting “are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment.” The Court affirms that protesters have no right to physically accost or interfere with clients or providers, nor may they trespass on clinic property. They do have the right to shout and chant on public property such as sidewalks. The ruling also reaffirms a 1994 decision that created protest-free zones, sometimes called “fixed bufffer zones,” at the doors and driveways of health clinics. (Los Angeles Times 2/20/1997)


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