Buffer Zones at Abortion Clinics: The Transcript of Arguments

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Image Source: Shira Schoenberg for The Republican/MassLive.com

January 15, 2014;Washington Post

According to some press reports, the Supreme Court Justices appeared “skeptical,” “doubtful,” and “unsympathetic” Wednesday when they heard oral arguments on a case involving a challenge to a Massachusetts law that provides for a 35-foot buffer zone at abortion clinics. The arguments yesterday centered less on whether or not the zone was valid and constitutional as far as free speech was concerned, and more on whether 35 feet is a supportable distance at which to keep protestors. But the case could have more far reaching effects on buffer zones in general.Justice Antonin Scalia said that the “protestor” characterization of those who regularly set up outside of abortion clinics to try to “gently” dissuade women from going in was distorting the debate, saying, “If it was a protest, keeping them back 35 feet might not be so bad. They can scream and yell and hold up signs from 35 feet. But what they can’t do is try to talk the woman out of the abortion. It’s a counseling case, not a—not a protest case.”

And, indeed, Eleanor McCullen, the person who brought the suit comes directly out of Central Casting: a sweet looking older woman who says her intent is simply to provide the unwitting ladies entering the clinic with alternatives.

The question of a buffer zone has come in front of the court before in Hill v. Colorado (2000), when an eight-foot, no-contact zone was upheld, but this decision was made when the court was more liberal and following some horrific incidents at abortion clinics, including the Planned Parenthood facility in Boston that is the clinic that is at the center of the new suit. This organization has written a cogent description of its experience with the run-up to the present law, in case any of you have forgotten the history.

While the Justices seemed for the most part to fall into a predictable pattern, at this point no one wants to predict outcomes because Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., widely seen as the swing vote, was largely silent during the proceedings.—Ruth McCambridge

  • porkchopexpress


    This guy is a “regular” protester who makes a living by being a protester. The clinic I take my wife to (the closest one to us) does not have a buffer zone except immediately in front of the building so it is like running a gauntlet to get to that safety space immediately in front of the door. People like the guy in the video is why the buffer zones are so important. The buffer is for the safety of those seeking services at a clinic (services can also include non abortion related services).

    I’ve been blocked in my truck before with my wife when she needs to get her Depo Provera shot every three months and protesters will walk right up to your car and block your way out. I’ve been pushed and punched by protesters trying to get to my wife and we’ve been screamed at and have been called obscenities. It is harassment and stalking. They take photos and video footage of you to try and intimidate a reaction from you and every time you call a cop, they really only talk you down from being exasperated and take notes. Whether they actually do anything is unknown. I’ve never seen any cop show up before.

    Buffer zones do not hinder free speech. They just give patients the much needed respite from the harassment that happens.