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US Supreme Court steps back into abortion battle

25 june 2013, 18:57
After refusing a string of cases dealing with the hot-button issue of abortion, the US Supreme Court waded back into the fray on Monday by accepting a case dealing with protests at clinics, AFP reports.

The highest court in the nation has rejected a number of cases which would have reopened the question of abortion, which has been legal in the United States for 40 years but faces significant restrictions in many states.

After having notably rejected cases from Indiana and Colorado, the court agreed to consider the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law which keeps anti-abortion protestors from blocking access to clinics.

The 2007 law, which was upheld by an appeals court, makes it a crime for protestors to "enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk" within 35 feet (11 meters) of an entrance or exit of "a reproductive health care facility."

Seven protestors, who argue that the law violates their constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and freedom of assembly, will be able to present their arguments to the Supreme Court in its upcoming session.

Anti-abortion advocates welcomed the decision to weigh in on what they described as a "clear case of viewpoint discrimination."

"We are optimistic the court will not only strike down the Massachusetts law, but also revisit some of its own prior precedents that led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection," said Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation.

Earlier this month the court declined to hear an appeal by the conservative Thomas More Society which was defending the right to display gruesome photos of aborted fetuses at public protests.

A Colorado church had sought an injunction prohibiting the display after two protestors brandished the "horrible images" in sight of its parishioners, who included small children.

By refusing to hear the appeal the court upheld the ban.

The court also recently declined to hear a case aimed at prohibiting the use of government health care payments to any health centers which also offered abortion, thus upholding the payments to clinics in Indiana.

Meanwhile, the court also turned away an effort to outlaw abortion completely in Oklahoma by amending the state constitution to grant "personhood" to embryos.

The nine justices still have two cases out of Oklahoma on their desks for which they have not yet ruled: a state law restricting the use of the abortion pill RU-486 and another state law which requires women to have ultrasounds prior to receiving an abortion.

Both laws were ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.

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