The Supreme Court has struck down a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts on Thursday.

The justices were unanimous that extending a buffer zone 35 feet from clinic entrances violates the First Amendment rights of protesters.

Chief Justice John Roberts says authorities have less intrusive ways to deal with problems outside the clinics.

From NPR News reporter Bill Chappell:

From the law experts at SCOTUSblog:

"The upshot of today's ruling is that an abortion clinic buffer zone is presumptively unconstitutional. Instead, a state has to more narrowly target clinic obstructions. For example, the police can tell protesters to move aside to let a woman through to the clinic. But it cannot prohibit protesters from being on the sidewalks in the first instance."

The justices' opinion also suggests alternatives for helping clinics protect their patients and staff from harassment, including obtaining court orders.

When the case was argued before the justices back in January, NPR's Nina Totenberg noted that buffer zones have become common since a Supreme Court ruling 14 years ago that upheld 8-foot buffer zones that move with individuals as they walk into clinics.

Nina notes that in Massachusetts, "two people were shot and killed and five others were wounded at abortion clinics in 1994. After first trying a moving, 'no approach' buffer zone, the state in 2007 adopted a fixed, stationary 35-foot buffer zone outside clinics."

Thursday's ruling on buffer zones was announced on the heels of another long-awaited decision, over the president's power to make recess appointments.

Read arguments for and against buffer zones at abortion clinics by Martha Coakley and Harvey Silverglate here