Appeals Court Upholds Abortion Clinic “Buffer Zone” Law

June 22, 2023

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a New York county’s “buffer zone” law barring anti-abortion activists from approaching people outside clinics.

The Manhattan-based 2nd Circuit said in its ruling that the law, adopted last year in Westchester County just north of New York City, was valid under a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that rejected a challenge to a similar Colorado law. 

The decision to reject a challenge from self-proclaimed “sidewalk counselor” Debra Vitagliano tees up an appeal in the Supreme Court. 

Wednesday’s decision came three days before the one-year mark of the Supreme Court having  overturned Roe v Wade on June 24, 2022, ending roughly a half-century of the Constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. 

The Westchester County law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of another person for the purpose of “oral protest, education, or counseling” within a 100-foot zone around a reproductive health facility. At least three U.S. states have similar restrictions, as do several cities and counties.

Vitagliano, a devout Catholic, argues that the law violates her Constitutional right to free speech. Her attorneys have further asserted that the Colorado law clashes with more recent precedent; in 2014 the Supreme Court—without mentioning the Colorado decision—struck down a Massachusetts law that requires a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.

Last year, a U.S. appeals court in Ohio temporarily blocked a Kentucky county’s 10-foot buffer zone, citing the 2014 Supreme Court decision. And a Philadelphia-based appeals court is currently considering a challenge to a 20-foot buffer zone in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

PHOTO: Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in Manhattan, home of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

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