Hypocrisy Alert: SCOTUS Keeps Its Own Buffer Zone While Telling Women They Don’t Need One

abortion clinic buffer zone

It is impossible to overlook the fact that women’s reproductive rights have been systematically eroded with personhood amendments, TRAP laws and rape insurance mandates.  It’s just as impossible to overlook the misogynistic tone of panels on reproductive rights comprised exclusively of old white men who claim that keeping government out of your business means increasing government control over a woman’s reproductive business.

Striking down a Massachusetts law that established buffer zones around Abortion clinics, on first amendment grounds, the SCOTUS has dealt another blow to women’s reproductive rights.

The SCOTUS took issue with Massachusetts’ buffer zone law because it”restricts access to ‘public way[s]’ and ‘sidewalks,’ places that have traditionally been open for speech activities and the Court has accordingly labels “traditional public fora.”


The Scotusblog summarized the impact of the ruling:

 ”The upshot of today’s ruling is that an abortion clinic buffer zone is presumptively unconstitutional. Instead, a state has to more narrowly target clinic obstructions. For example, the police can tell protesters to move aside to let a woman through to the clinic. But it cannot prohibit protesters from being on the sidewalks in the first instance.”

In summarizing the background of buffer zones at reproductive health clinics, the SCOTUS pointed to the fact that this law was preceded by legislation that was modeled on Colorado’s floating buffer zone law. However, that law proved insufficient because anti-choice activists threw literature into cars, filmed and touched patients and blocked cars from accessing parking garages. That was when, Massachusetts passed the current law.

The Court also pointed to the fact that the plaintiffs in this case are “sidewalk counsellors” who merely offer literature and only persist in their counselling if the woman “looks receptive.”

That may very well be true, but it doesn’t remove the fact that previous legislative solutions proved ineffective in protecting people who have business with abortion clinics from the physical obstacles and intimidation by more zealous anti-choice activists.

It does not remove the fact that reproductive care clinics endured bombings, workers were shot, and women have been intimidated and threatened before buffer zones were established.

It is particularly interesting when you consider that this Court has its own buffer zone, but doesn’t believe women seeking reproductive care need one.

The silver lining is a majority of the court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the law was not a “content based.” or “viewpoint based” because

it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, as opposed to other kinds of facilities. First, the Act does not draw content-based distinctions on its face. Whether petitioners violate the Act “depends” not “on what  they say,” Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U. S. 1, 27, but on where they say it. Second, even if a facially neutral law disproportionately affects speech on certain topics, it remains content neutral so long as it is ” ‘justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech.’

This matters because had the majority shared Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas’ acceptance of this argument, anti-abortion zealots would be free to harass, intimidate and physically threaten women and reproductive care workers as they did not so long ago.

In the final analysis, this ruling still amounts to another attack on women’s reproductive rights. It is also this ruling is yet another incentive to vote in November.  If Republicans take control of the Senate, the next Supreme Court Justice is all but certain to be someone who will share Scalia, Alito and Thomas’s views on women’s reproductive rights and all other matters before the Court.

Image: Aljazeera America

Former contributor.

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