Buffer zones essential for reproductive rights

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The Supreme Court is currently deliberating on a case challenging the 2007 Massachusetts law that mandates a buffer zone of 35 feet around clinics that provide abortions, according to The Boston Globe. Anti-abortion protesters maintain that the law violates their First Amendment right to free speech, while healthcare providers and members of Planned Parenthood argue that the law is essential to providing patients with safe and reliable healthcare.

The Supreme Court should absolutely uphold the buffer zone law, because restricting where people can voice their opinions does not violate First Amendment rights, as long as there are other readily available venues to do so.

The buffer zone extends 35 feet, which is roughly the length of a school bus, and protesters can air their views just over the painted line that designates the area. Outside the buffer zone, people can do and say whatever they want.

More importantly, the Supreme Court should uphold the law because people have a right to access medical care without being afraid.

The lynchpin of the anti-abortion case is that keeping protesters off a certain strip of sidewalk violates their right to free speech. However, the idea of protest-free zones is hardly unprecedented. The Supreme Court itself has a buffer zone on its entire plaza that prohibits picketing, demonstrations, and vigils, according to The Boston Globe. Massachusetts institutes a 150-foot buffer zone around polling centers on Election Day. In these cases, protesters or private citizens can express their views freely, as long as they stay outside of these designated areas.

In the case of abortion clinics, the buffer zone is 35 feet, which takes the average person around seven seconds to walk, according to NPR. This space hardly prevents protesters from sharing their views, and gives patients a modicum of protection from demonstrators.

The anti-abortion protesters in this case argue that they merely wish to have calm and quiet conversations with the people approaching the clinics. The principal petitioner in the case, Eleanor McCullen, argues that, “It’s America. I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody,” according to NPR.

If all protesters approached patients civilly and calmly, then the circumstances of the case would be different, but the reality is that the space surrounding clinics is often chaotic, and sometimes violent.
McCullen was an ingenious choice for lead plaintiff in this case. She is a 77-year-old woman, clearly motivated by her religious beliefs, and so clearly not a threat to anyone.

But not all abortion protesters have such a kindly visage. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley points out that there is an issue of safety on a daily basis at these clinics, with patients often being verbally and physically harassed, according to NPR.

Abortion is a legal medical service in the United States, and citizens absolutely do not have the right or power to determine which legal services other people can have. Women have the right to accessible medical care without being screamed at or harassed, and without fearing for their own safety.