- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to take up the question of whether states are in violation of the Constitution when they enforce “buffer zones” around abortion clinics to keep protesters away.

The justices offered no comment in their move to let stand a 2000 Massachusetts law that forces protesters to stay at least 18 feet from the clinics and at least six feet from women entering them.

In other action, the high court agreed to hear arguments in a case that centers on whether a New Mexico church can continue serving its members a hallucinogenic tea during religious services.

Blending Christianity and indigenous South American beliefs, the Brazil-based church has about 140 members in the Santa Fe area. It has been locked in a years-long battle with federal authorities over the legality of the hoasca tea it uses.

A lower federal court ruled in favor of allowing the church to use the tea — brewed from plants found in the Amazon River basin — because of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But the government argued that it contains the controlled substance DMT, a hallucinogenic drug, and in 1999, authorities seized about 30 gallons of the tea from church leaders in Santa Fe.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case this summer and to rule in the fall.

In the Massachusetts case, pro-life groups voiced discontent over the court’s move not to review the the Massachusetts abortion-clinic law.

“We’re disappointed,” said Cheryl Sullenger, a spokeswoman for the national pro-life group Operation Rescue. “What the buffer zones really do is prevent pro-lifers from distributing literature to women who are seeking abortions.

“A lot of times that literature gives them the information they needed in order for them to make a better decision for them and their baby.”

Several states have buffer-zone laws similar to the one Massachusetts began seeking after two abortion clinic workers were fatally shot in 1994. The state passed the law in 2000, but it was briefly overturned during the ensuing legal battle in Massachusetts federal courts.

A federal appeals court upheld the law in 2001, at which time Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, a Democrat, said the “buffer-zone law is a sensible measure that strikes the right balance between public safety and the right to free speech.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case marks the third time in as many months that the justices have declined to wade into politically sensitive abortion waters.

In February, they refused to reopen Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that made the practice legal nationwide in 1973. Last month, the justices refused to hear an appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down an Idaho law requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions.

In 1992, the last time Roe v. Wade was reviewed, the justices upheld the fundamental constitutional right of women to choose abortion.

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