So, are free-speech "buffer zones" unconstitutional or not? The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, seems to say yes, they are:
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a Massachusetts law requiring protesters to stay at least 35 feet from the entrances to clinics that provide abortions is unconstitutional, a decision that cast a legal cloud over similar provisions in 15 other states. …
The law barred protesters from crossing a painted line that kept them 35 feet from clinic doors. Anti-abortion groups sued, claiming the limit violated their free speech rights by making it impossible to converse with entering patients.
Nationwide, similar buffer-zone restrictions on abortion protests have been imposed in 15 other states through local laws or court orders.
But five of the justices -- the four liberals and Cheif Justice John Roberts -- narrowed the decision in such a way that it seemed to endorse the concept of buffer zones. The main problem with this one, it seems, was Massachusetts' insistence that the 35-food zone was the only solution possible. This seems like one of those bogus hair-splitting exercises that avoid the obvious: Constitutional rights exist everywhere, or they can be denied anywhere. There can't be zones where rights are exercised and zones where they are not.
But this whole issue, I must say, makes me a little uncomfortable. Ignore what you think about abortions and abortion protestors and consider the dynamics of the situaton. People are going into private places for private reasons to engage in lawful activity. But to get there, they have to go through public spaces lined with people who are trying to harangue them into staying away.
If somebody wants to protest my reactionary editorials, they are not allowed to come on my porch and shout through my front door. But they are perfectly free to stand on the sidewalk in front of my house night and day, making my life miserable and all of my visitors nervous. This would not seem like "free speech" to me -- there is no debate in such circumstances, no reasoned argument, no gentle persuasion. It would be intimidation, plain and simple, and I might have to accept its constitutionality, but I sure wouldn't have to like it.