The Supreme Court declared open season on reproductive services clinics on Thursday when they issued a ruling in McCullen v. Coakley striking down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law which required anti-choice protesters to remain at least 35 feet from clinic entrances.
The unusual unanimous decision found that by attempting to protect the workers and clients of the clinics the state had imposed too great a burden on free speech writing in their opinion.
“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests.”
Supporters of buffer zone laws had hoped that the Court would recognize that the laws are intended to provide for the safety of staff and patients and 30 pro-choice groups had filed Amicus briefs but it was all of no avail after the anti-choicers brought out their secret weapon — deceit.
The anti-choice people had stealth on their side, they chose 77-year-old Eleanor McCullen to act as the plaintiff in the case fully aware that they were presenting this tiny grandmotherly woman was typical of the protesters at these clinics.
“I am 5 feet 1 inch tall,” McCullen said in her sworn statement. “My body type can be described as ‘plump.’ I am a mother and grandmother.”
Clinic operators agree that there would be no problem if this were an accurate depiction of what goes on around these clinics, they would love to have little old grandmothers coming around to have a pleasant chat with them and their clients. That is not what actually occurs however, there are often rude, screaming religious zealots who think nothing of physically assaulting anyone attempting to enter the clinic and completely uninterested in the reason for the visit, they treat all clients the same, the woman seeking an abortion and the woman coming in to the clinic for pre-natal care.
“If there were just peaceful protests taking place outside clinics — instead of the threats and obstruction and actual violence that is part of the daily life of clinic staff and patients — perhaps there would not be the need for a buffer zone, Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation told Think Progress in a January interview. “But that isn’t the case.”
Massachusetts’ “buffer zone” rule was passed in response to assaults on abortion clinics.
The Massachusetts law was passed in response to assaults on two clinics on the same day by a masked man armed with a rifle, not a Bible, and which resulted in 2 deaths and several casualties, the law appeared to be working well until now as have similar laws elsewhere.
“Buffer zones make a huge difference,” Ashley Hartman, who holds a master’s in public health from Ohio State University and has volunteered as a clinic escort in the Cleveland area, told Think Progress.
“The reality is, if you’ve ever been outside a clinic, it’s not about exchanging ideas… Protesting is about creating the feeling of intimidation, so the more distance you can have from them, the less powerful that intimidation is.”
Hartman thinks that it should be apparent to anyone that these laws are needed when there are still times when women must be escorted into these clinics to receive the care that they need, to deny the state the right to ensure the safety of its citizens is to give tacit approval to this lawless behavior.
h/t: Think Progress.