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Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N.Y. (1997)

In Brief

Schenck v. Pro Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357 (1997): Court strikes down "floating buffer zone" in clinic demonstration injunction

A group of abortion doctors and clinics filed suit against several pro-life individuals and organizations alleging illegal blockades at abortion clinics. The federal district court issued an injunction preventing protestors from coming with 15 feet of people and vehicles seeking access to the clinics and within 15 feet of clinic doorways, driveways, and parking lot entrances.

The Supreme Court reviewed the injunction to determine whether it "burdened no more speech than necessary" to accomplish its goals, which were ensuring public safety and order, promoting the free flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks, protecting property rights, and protecting a woman's freedom to seek pregnancy related services.

The Court upheld the fixed buffer zones around the doorways, driveways, and driveway entrances as necessary to ensure access for people and vehicles trying to enter or exit the clinic property. The Court struck down the floating buffer zones, reasoning that it would be too difficult for protestors to engage in a peaceful conversation while attempting to maintain 15 feet away from that person and all others entering or leaving the clinic, and that the floating buffer zones around vehicles would restrict the speech of those who simply line the sidewalk or curb in an effort to communicate peacefully.

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