Upon hearing the news that the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts law that provided a 35 foot buffer zone prohibiting anti-abortion protesters from harassing patients entering medical facilities that provide abortions, many of us were livid. The decision was unanimous. With at least three highly progressive judges on the Supreme Court, a unanimous ruling on an issue of this magnitude could only indicate that the law was flawed, regardless if it was effective at preventing harassment of women entering medical facilities that performed abortion. If the Massachusetts law was flawed, the Supreme Court ruling was flawed for sure and arguably seemed to assure an audience for abortion opponents.
In an interview with NPR, the lead plaintiff in the case, Eleanor McCullen, stated, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” Often described as mild-mannered and pleasant, McCullen has made the same or similar statements in other interviews without a single reporter challenging the truth of her comment or the actual intent of her activities. It is as if her grandmotherly disposition and pronounced religiosity render her words as indisputable.
The ruling is final. The justices did not consider the rights of women to get abortions without acrimonious protesters. They considered only free speech on public streets and sidewalks. The 35 feet of the zone was an issue in part. That may seem like a lot of space to some. However, as one man shared in an essay on Time.com, if you are the already traumatized couple going to an appointment to abort a wanted pregnancy, 35 feet is not large enough. Nor is it large enough for any other woman trying to access abortion without interference. Would 20 feet have been small enough? Five? Why are zones around the Supreme Court and other agencies valid but those to protect women seeking abortions are not? After all, the history of violence against abortion facilities is recent and significant to safety concerns.
Perhaps Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General defending the buffer zone, could have concomitantly pursued a case against McCullen and Company concerning their interference with the right of women to privately receive constitutionally protected abortions. If that was ever a possibility, Coakley would have had difficulty finding a plaintiff willing to be at risk for violence or public scorn from anti-choice zealots.
A Boston Globe article about the Supreme Court decision quoted Suffolk University Law School Professor Jessica Silbey, “They’ve [Supreme Court] approved the idea of this kind of law, just not the mechanism [...] It was too broad.” Is Silbey correct? The article also quoted legislators and other leaders; clearly, great effort will be made to respond to the decision quickly, effectively, and, hopefully, with a solid legal foundation. We have no choice but to accept that legal authorities will keep their promises and assurances and that the pro-choice community will hold them accountable to doing so.
All of us want free speech protected. But this is where so many of us feel anger and frustration. Sweet, grandmotherly Eleanor McMullen is a liar, as are all other anti-abortion zealots involved in the case. Those who spend their time hanging out at medical facilities at which abortion is provided are not known for talking or walking “gently” and “lovingly.” Deeming themselves “sidewalk counselors” they are known for talking and walking judgmentally with hostility and hurling epithets or accusations as they attempt to force religion-based/unscientific material on people, mostly women, entering the facilities. Over the 35 years that I have been involved with the pro-choice cause, I have never seen a patient entering a facility seek out or respond favorably to the “sidewalk counseling.” What is a “sidewalk counselor?” What are their credentials? Call them what they really are: religious zealots and fetus worshippers. Buffer zones do not end their free speech. Instead, buffer zones impede zealots from trying to force their opinions and preferences on people entering a medical facility. Buffer zones reduce the potential of physical harm to patients and their families or friends.
Freedom of speech was never impeded for the anti-abortion zealots. The buffer zones merely thwarted their intent to impose their views on others. There is no evidence that they stopped a single abortion, albeit there is evidence that they delayed abortions as women felt intimated and rearranged their appointments to avoid the protesting, fetus-worshipping zealots.
Other bloggers, columnists, and reporters will adequately cover the ruling, some with great passion. Rachel Maddow also did an excellent analysis on her June 26 program. Take the time to read or listen to the facts to better understand how this unanimous ruling could have happened. It is important to set aside whatever we feel, think, or believe about the SCOTUS ruling and focus hard on stopping the zealots once and for all through the tactics of proactive campaigns that properly portray their dangerous zealotry, disregard for honesty, and intent to stop women from their constitutionally protected reproductive freedoms. McCullen and Company are not nice church-going, compassionate people who care about women and babies. They are indeed zealots who place such value on the fetus that they are willing to endanger the lives of women seeking abortions and those who help them. As hard as it is to believe, it appears that McMullen’s grandmotherly ways scammed the Supreme Court.
NOTE: If you are interested, this link will take you to an article concerning why the Colorado buffer zone law will remain intact: http://durangoherald.com/article/20140626/NEWS01/140629654/0/NEWS01/Colo%E2%80%99s-abortion-protest-law-stands-