On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that created 35 foot buffer zones around abortion clinic entrances. The 2007 Massachusetts law prevented anti-abortion activists from protesting within 35 feet of a clinic entrance. The Court rules that the law violated the free speech rights of the protesters.
Sadly, this ruling will encourage anti-abortion protesters to harass, confront, and intimidate women seeking access to safe and legal abortions. The court seems to have interpreted free speech to include the freedom to accost women seeking an abortion face-to-face. While most Americans will agree that anti-abortion activists should have a right to demonstrate in public space near clinics, there is no reason to require that they be allowed to approach people at close range. Politicians who speak in public venues are usually granted a buffer zone to protect them from assault, assassination, or other public safety risks that could be increased by close proximity to constituents.
Given the history of right-wing violence at abortion clinics, the Court’s decision is perplexing. Eliminating the buffer zone increases the risk that women will be accosted, assaulted, or even killed. Anti-choice zealots should not be given unlimited access to the entrances of clinics. In 1994, an anti-abortion activist murdered two people at clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts. The buffer zones were designed to protect women’s access to clinics and to reduce the danger of violent confrontations between anti-choice protesters and women seeking abortion services.
The Supreme Court has struck a blow against safe and legal abortion, by placing women seeking abortion in greater jeopardy. Free speech should not be a license to harass and intimidate fellow Americans under the guise of exercising First Amendment freedoms. Women seeking abortions should be afforded the same protection from protesters as high profile politicians receive at public events. A reasonable buffer zone that does not prevent the right of protesters to assemble to express their point of view should be legal. The right to free speech is not violated by asking people not to stand in the doorway when women are trying to enter a clinic. The Supreme Court’s ruling puts women at risk and sadly the entire Court stands on the wrong side of justice with this ruling.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.