A Buffer from Harassment

January 15, 2014

Today the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging a Massachusetts law that establishes a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to prevent obstruction by anti-choice protesters. Here’s how to talk about striking the balance between public safety and free speech.

TOPLINES

We are all grateful we live in a country where we can speak our minds and air our political differences civilly.
Nowhere else in the country are law-abiding Americans made to endure this kind of treatment in public.
This law was passed by the state legislature to help law enforcement keep the peace, and to prevent physical threats, harassment and assaults outside clinics.
The law creates a 35-foot buffer zone around health clinics: that’s less than the distance from the goal line to the 12-yard line—plenty close enough to be seen and heard loud and clear.
The fact is, clinic protesters are not there to express themselves, they are there to obstruct people. They’re not there to protest abortions, they’re there to prevent abortions. That’s why this is not a free speech issue, it’s a law enforcement issue.
These people want to prevent women from entering the clinic by any means necessary—just ask them. Many members of their movement do not respect our laws: they bomb clinics, burn clinics and murder doctors. At least four clinics were bombed or set ablaze in 2012.
Directing protesters to places where they can protest without disrupting other people is a common, constitutional way for police to help keep the peace. Protesting is regulated outside polling places, political conventions, and even the Supreme Court itself. If it’s constitutional at the Supreme Court, it’s constitutional at health clinics.
In a free society, we need to make sure Americans can visit doctors in legal medical clinics without physical intimidation. This law ensures they can, while allowing those who disagree to have their say too.

 KEY: ● Connect with your audience | ■ Make your case |▲ Show how your opponents differ


ATTACKS+RESPONSES

ATTACK: “Americans should be allowed to say what the want, where they want. If they break the law, they can be arrested then.”

RESPONSE:

  • In the past, health clinics have seen low-level mob violence with many instances of threats and assaults.
  • It’s a lot of trouble for police to prosecute a lot of small harassment and assaults. It’s much easier for police to prevent them, especially when they are entirely predictable.
  • Even the Supreme Court of the United States limits protests outside their front door. Protesters must move to the sidewalk rather than protest on the Court’s plaza.

WORTH KNOWING

  • There were at least four instances of abortion clinic bombings and arson in 2012: Pensacola FL, Grand Chute, WI, Atlanta, GA, and Marietta, GA.
  • Massachusetts passed the law as a response to a public safety problem outside abortion clinics. Both pro-abortion and anti-abortion protesters were jockeying for position outside clinics and created a situation where police had difficulty keeping the peace.
  • Massachusetts tried a less restrictive law first. In 2000, the state passed a law that created a 6-foot “floating buffer zone” around staff and patients that was meant to protect them as they entered and exited clinics. The less restrictive law failed to stem harassment and entrance-blocking, prompting state lawmakers to pass the law currently being challenged in the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court issued a new regulation in June, 2013 that bans most protests on the plaza directly in front of the Court. Protesters must congregate on the sidewalk instead.
Category: Women