Supreme Court Upholds Fixed Buffer Zones to Protect Abortion Clinics

On February 19, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Schenk v. Pro-choice Network of Western New York which upholds fixed buffer zones at abortion clinics. The Court upheld two of the three forms of injunctive relief by allowing not only the fixed buffer zones but also by recognizing the right of clinic personnel and patients to wave off anti-abortion “side-walk counselors” within these zones. The Court upheld a 15-foot fixed buffer zone in this case, but also upheld the 1994 Madsen decision of a 36 feet zone and thus makes the zone size dependent on the record of anti-abortion violence and the geographic location of the clinic. The Court did strike down a floating buffer zone in this case, but it left open the possibility of a floating buffer zone in other cases. Chief Justice Rehnquist did not rule out the possibility of floating buffer zones if the record of anti-abortion extremist behavior at a particular clinic warranted this remedy.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation commented that, “Fixed buffer zones are an essential tool in preventing anti-abortion violence.” Approximately one-third of clinics are currently protect by buffer zones. However, she said, “If the Schenck decision emboldens anti-abortion extremists to engage in more violence and harassment at clinics, the striking down of the Buffalo “floating” buffer zone could not have come at a worse timeƒThose of us engaged in protecting clinics and health care workers have noticed an appreciable increase in anti-abortion terrorism at clinics recently.”


Schenk v. Pro-choice Network of Western New York

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