Justices to hear abortion protest case

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a case that examines the rights of protestors outside abortion clinics.

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Eleanor McCullen, a 76-year-old woman who stands outside of Boston-area Planned Parenthood locations trying to dissuade women entering the clinics from going through with an abortion, says a state law requiring that she stand outside a 35-foot buffer zone surrounding the clinics limits her right to free speech.

The buffer zone applies only to protestors, not people going to the clinic, those passing by, employees or those conducting business at the clinics. Opponents of the law say it treats their right to free speech differently from those allowed to pass through the zone.

Planned Parenthood says the law is necessary to create a safe environment for visitors to the clinic, and argues it has curbed the “harassment and intimidation of Massachusetts women seeking safe access to legal reproductive health care services including birth control, cancer screenings, and abortion.”

“The law strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of women to access health care, the state’s interest in protecting public safety, and the free speech rights of Americans,” the group said in a statement.

The case is one of a handful of serious legal and political challenges facing reproductive and abortion rights advocates, as well as supporters of the Affordable Care Act, in 2014.

The highest profile of these is a case challenging ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, which the Supreme Court is likely to hear in the spring term.