Bloomberg Law
July 2, 2020, 4:54 PM

High Court Rejects Challenges to Abortion-Clinic Bubble Zones

Greg Stohr
Greg Stohr
Bloomberg News

The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed abortion opponents by leaving intact a precedent that lets states and cities prevent people from approaching women without consent as they are entering a clinic.

The justices turned away two appeals that called for reconsidering the 2000 decision, which upheld Colorado’s 8-foot bubble zone around people when they are near the entrance to a clinic. The dual rejections let stand clinic-access laws in Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Justice Clarence Thomas said he would have heard the Chicago case.

The justices on Thursday also told lower courts to reconsider two rulings that blocked abortion restrictions in Indiana, including a requirement that women wait 18 hours after they have had an ultrasound. In ordering a fresh look, the Supreme Court pointed to its ruling this week invalidating Louisiana’s requirement that abortion-clinic doctors have privileges at a local hospital.

Conservative groups said the Chicago and Harrisburg clinic-access laws target anti-abortion advocacy and violate free-speech rights. The Chicago ordinance puts an 8-foot bubble zone around people within 50 feet of a clinic entrance. The measure restricts only specified types of speech, including protesting and counseling.

The Harrisburg ordinance creates a fixed 20-foot buffer zone around the entrance to a health-care facility.

The Supreme Court last considered the competing rights outside abortion clinics in 2014, when the justices struck down a Massachusetts law that created a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances.

That ruling was unanimous, but the court splintered in its reasoning, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the liberal wing to say the law was unnecessarily broad. In a separate opinion, three conservative justices said the court should reconsider the 2000 decision.

The Chicago case is Price v. Chicago, 18-1516. The Harrisburg case is Reilly v. Harrisburg, 19-983. The Indiana ultrasound case is Box v. Planned Parenthood, 18-1019.

(Updates to describe challenged laws starting in third paragraph)

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