Colorado's Bubble Law was the first in the country... but not the last

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Jo Scott as seen on Channel 7.

In this week's Westword, "Bursting Their Bubble" discusses the first successful prosecution in Denver of a Bubble-Law violation. Convicted in August, Jo Scott will be back in court on September 30 to find out whether she'll be ordered to stay away from all Planned Parenthood facilties for a year.

In 1993, Colorado became the first state to legally protect access to health-care clinics. Though the Bubble Law was written specifically to shield women from protesters' abuse while entering abortion clinics, it effectively created a "floating bubble" of eight feet around anyone within a hundred feet of the entrance to any health-care facility. The floating bubble provision of the law was challenged but upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

That same year, a similar law was struck down by a federal judge in Massachusetts. That state’s statute, which created a six-foot protective bubble within eighteen feet of a clinic entrance, was ruled an unconstitutional violation of speech because it applied only to protesters outside of abortion clinics. The ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, and last year Massachusetts expanded the clinic buffer zone to 35 feet around clinic entrances.

A Montana law prevents protesters from coming within eight feet of patients who are within 36 feet of a health-care facility.

All told, eleven states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting obstruction and other activity outside health clinics (to see a full list of state laws, click here). And in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which set civil and criminal penalties for property destruction, obstruction and other nuisance crimes committed outside of health-care clinics with the intent of intimidating patients entering those clinics. -- Sean Cronin


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