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Opening the Door to Harassment
June 26, 2014
Today the Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn a Massachusetts law that establishes a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to prevent physical threats, harassment, and assaults. Here’s how to talk about the decision and striking the balance between public safety and free speech.
We are all grateful we live in a country where we can speak our minds and air our political differences civilly.
The Massachusetts legislature passed this law to help law enforcement keep the peace, and toprevent physical threats, harassment and assaults outside clinics. Nowhere else in the country are law-abiding Americans made to endure this kind of treatment in public: spitting, taunting, shouting, shoving.
A 35-foot buffer zone is 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, extremists outside abortion clinics are not there to express themselves, they are there to harass people. That’s why this was a law enforcement issue.
While many members of this movement express themselves appropriately, others do not respect our laws: they bomb clinics, burn clinics and murder people. At leastfour clinics were bombed or set ablaze in 2012. Only five years ago, Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions, was shot dead at church.
Today the Supreme Court ruled that people outside abortion clinics don’t just get to speak their minds, they get to obstruct and intimidate Americans trying to enter legal medical clinics. That’s not free speech, that’s Supreme Court-sponsored bullying.
Protesting is regulated outside polling places and even the Supreme Court itself. If it’s constitutional at the Supreme Court, it should be constitutional at health clinics.
It’s wonderful for the Supreme Court Justices that they don’t have to deal with or even see such things on a daily basis, but they’ve just tied the hands of law enforcement officers that do.
It’s bad enough that women who want to exercise their basic rights have to publicly reveal very personal medical information by showing up at a well-known place and time to have an abortion.
Now the Court has given extremists the right to target and confront women who have unplanned pregnancies, not about their political views, but about their personal medical decisions.
So much for Americans having a right to privacy.
KEY: ● Connect with your audience | ■ Make your case | ▲ Show how your opponents differ
The Court ruled that, although the Massachusetts law addressed a legitimate problem of “crowding, obstruction, and even violence” at abortion clinics, the approach it used was too broad. The Court ruled that it is lawful to use any of a number of other, more narrowly-tailored means to address the problem of violence at clinics. The Court also ruled that the plaintiffs in the case don’t just have a right to speak their minds about abortion, but they also have a right to engage law-abiding women in conversations about their personal medical decisions.
ATTACKS AND RESPONSES
ATTACK: “Americans should be allowed to say what the want, where they want. If they break the law, they can be arrested then.”
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.
There’s a reason Massachusetts passed this law. Mother Jones chronicled 16 of the most egregious instances of violence and harassment that were taking place outside abortion clinics prior to the buffer zone law’s enactment.
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.