What is a Bubble Zone?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bubble zone is a designated area around a clinic which offers reproductive health services. Within the bubble zone, only staff and clients of the clinic may be present, along with supporters accompanying clients to appointments. The idea behind a bubble zone is the restriction of clinic protesters, who may blockade the entrance or otherwise impede access to the clinic.

A bubble zone protects clinic staff and patients from especially enthusiastic protesters.
A bubble zone protects clinic staff and patients from especially enthusiastic protesters.

Bubble zone laws are put in place to protect women's access to reproductive health services, particularly abortion, and also for safety reasons. Clinic protesters can sometimes become quite heated, and a mandatory buffer zone can reduce tensions between clients, picketers, and staff, reducing the risk of conflict. Furthermore, a group of protesters could potentially impede access by law enforcement, emergency services, and other government agencies which might need rapid access to the clinic.

Abortion may have negative psychological consequences.
Abortion may have negative psychological consequences.

Laws about bubble zones vary widely from nation to nation, and even within individual countries. As a general rule, these laws can be fixed, meaning that they apply to a specific location such as a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital, or floating, moving with clinic patients, staff, and vehicles. You may hear a bubble zone referred to as an access zone, referencing the idea that it is designed to protect access to abortion.

Activists who are opposed to abortion are often opposed to bubble zones, because they feel that such zones obstruct their ability to reach out to clinic patients. In nations where free speech is valued, bubble zone laws often become controversial, with protesters arguing that they have a protected right to free speech which is infringed by the zone. When such laws are challenged in court on this basis, the safety argument is usually a key part of the argument used to defend the zone, with the defense suggesting that the right to free speech does not extend to physical obstruction of clients and staff, or to physical threats.

For staff and clients, a bubble zone can be greatly appreciated. Seeking abortion and other reproductive health services can be very stressful, especially with pressure from protesters around a clinic or doctor's office, and a clot of protesters may scare a patient away, or make members of the staff feel physically threatened. Physical attacks on clinic staff have been reported in many nations, reflecting the obvious need for a protective zone which allows people to get to work safely. Most clinics also have additional measures in place to protect the safety and privacy of their clients.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - If we start limiting what facilities people can protest near, I think we would be going down a very slippery slope as a nation. I think the bubble zone is enough. Plus, there isn't anything stopping clinics from providing services to make the patients more comfortable, such as having security walk them in from their car or something.

I find abortion protesters to be as mislead as you do, but unfortunately they do have a right to do what they're doing.


I am so glad that bubble zones exist. However, I would like to take it a step further-I don't think people should be allowed to protest so close to a health care facility. Especially clinics that offer reproductive services.

First of all, a lot of those places, specifically planned Parenthood, do more than just perform abortions. They also provide low cost reproductive care like exams and birth control to needy women. People that aren't even going for an abortion shouldn't have to deal with the nutty protesters.

And really, even if a woman is going for an abortion, she shouldn't have to deal with that either! It's her own personal choice, and it's not against the law. Abortion protesters really need to go get a life. Maybe they should go do something for the millions of starving children that are already born?

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