Why the Buffer Zone Decision Is Wrong

(Photo: Debra Sweet/ cc/ Flickr)

Why the Buffer Zone Decision Is Wrong

Every Saturday morning, I escort patients into a reproductive health clinic. So I'm troubled by the Supreme Court decision overturning the buffer zone in Massachusetts that protected such women.

The Supreme Court ruled that the 35-feet buffer zone interfered with the free speech rights of a grandmother and others who said they just wanted to quietly counsel the women going into the clinic.

But that's not what I often see. Many clinic escorts, myself included, have had to strategically place our bodies between a protester and a patient because the protester was so in her face.

Many protesters yell racist or sexist slurs or compare reproductive health care to eugenics and white supremacy, enslavement and submission. Protesters often also display signs with grotesque and shocking imagery meant to scare the patients from entering the clinic.

We've seen patients grabbed and blocked from their cars. And we ourselves have been pushed and shoved while trying to get a patient safely into the clinic. I've even seen a protester trespass into a clinic and yell at the women there.

The Supreme Court blithely ruled that the state of Massachusetts has other laws on the books to deal with such aggressive behavior. But by erasing the buffer zone, the court is inviting more such behavior.

This is what worries me: If protesters are willing to be this aggressive with buffer zone regulations in effect, how far are they willing to go when they are absent?

Let's remember that violence against clinics and clinic workers is not unheard of. Fanatics have murdered doctors and other clinic employees. This fear of violence, in fact, was the driving force behind many buffer zone laws on the books today.

The harassment, intimidation and physical aggression that patients are subjected to can have serious consequences.

A patient trying to obtain an abortion may be repelled by the protesters and then miss her appointment, sending her past the term restriction for the procedure in her state. She then may have to seek care out of state or be forced to endure a dangerous pregnancy.

A patient seeking a screening for a sexually transmitted infection could become infertile because she was not able to treat it in time.

A patient with an easily treatable, precancerous condition could see it progress to a cancerous condition.

While the Supreme Court ruled that the buffer zone violated free speech, ironically, the Supreme Court itself has imposed a buffer zone greater than 35 feet around its own building, which infringes far more on political speech than any zone around a reproductive health clinic.

We must guarantee that women have a right to access the health care they need and deserve.

At best, this Supreme Court ruling was naive. At worst, it was disingenuous and hypocritical.

And it may make life much more difficult for women who need and deserve reproductive health care.

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