Image: Steven Senne, AP

The Supreme Court steps into the dangerous minefield of abortion protests Wednesday when it takes up a challenge to Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive health clinics.

Judging from the court’s last foray on the subject in 2000, at least three justices are likely to oppose the law as a violation of free speech, and several more votes are in doubt. Given the justices’ high regard for the First Amendment, the Bay State’s law — twice upheld by lower courts — could be in jeopardy.

The Colorado buffer zone upheld by the court in a 6-3 ruling 14 years ago was just 8 feet deep. In 2007, Massachusetts officials erected a zone around abortion clinics more than four times as large, citing past violence and disruption outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Boston.

By keeping protesters 35 feet away from clinic doors but allowing clients and staff easy access, the law discriminates based on viewpoints and “indiscriminately criminalizes even peaceful, consensual, non-obstructive conversation and leafleting,” opponents argue in their brief.

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