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Restricting Antiabortion Protests

The legalization of ABORTION resulted in the creation of many groups opposed to the medical procedure. Some groups have sought to take away this reproductive right by LOBBYING Congress and state legislatures, and others have picketed outside clinics that offer abortion services. In the 1990s, groups such as Operation Rescue sought to prevent abortions by organizing mass demonstrations outside clinics and blockading their entrances, as well as confronting and impeding women seeking to enter the clinics.

Clinics responded by obtaining court injunctions that restricted how close abortion protestors could get to clinic property. Abortion protestors claimed that these court orders violated their FIRST AMENDMENT rights of assembly and free speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357, 117 S. Ct. 855, 137 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1997), clarified what types of restrictions a judge could impose on abortion clinic protests. The Court upheld an INJUNCTION provision that imposed a fixed buffer zone around the abortion clinic. In this case the buffer zone affected protests within 15 feet from either side or edge of, or in front of, doorways or doorway entrances, parking lot entrances, and driveways and driveway entrances. Chief Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST ruled that the government had an interest in ensuring public safety and order, promoting free flow of traffic, protecting property rights, and protecting a woman's freedom to seek pregnancy-related services.

The Court did strike down a provision concerning floating buffer zones. These zones, which prohibited demonstrations within 15 feet of any person or vehicle seeking access to or leaving abortion facilities, "burdened more speech than was necessary" to serve the government interests cited in support of fixed zones. Thus, protestors were free to approach persons outside the 15-foot fixed buffer zone.

In 2000, though, the Court again considered the issue of a buffer zone in Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, 120 S. Ct. 2480, 147 L. Ed. 2d 597 (2000). The Court upheld Colorado's 1993 statute, which prevented anyone from counseling, distributing leaflets, or displaying signs within eight feet of others without their consent whenever they are within 100 feet of a health-clinic entrance. The Colorado law was enacted, according to attorneys for the state, after abortion patients complained of being spat on, kicked, and harassed outside clinics. Those who challenged the law claimed it was a violation of their FREEDOM OF SPEECH under the First Amendment. The court found sufficient public and STATE INTEREST to uphold the restriction.


Briant, Keith. 1962. Marie Stopes: A Biography. London: Hogarth.

Korn, Peter. 1996. A Year in the Life of an Abortion Clinic. New York: Grove/Atlantic.


Abortion; Roe v. Wade.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Recovered memory to RepugnancyReproduction - Historical Background, Restricting Antiabortion Protests, Birth Control, Abortion, Pregnancy And Medical Developments, Reproductive Hazards In The Workplace