RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Scangas writes: "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."

The Supreme Court struck down buffer zones around abortion clinics. (photo: AFagen/flickr)
The Supreme Court struck down buffer zones around abortion clinics. (photo: AFagen/flickr)

Why the Buffer Zone Decision Is Wrong

By Anastasia Scangas, The Progressive

27 June 14


very 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 naïve. At worst, it was disingenuous and hypocritical.

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

Anastasia Scangas sits on the board of directors for the Chicago Abortion Fund. - See more at: your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+33 # Buddha 2014-06-28 18:50
How about it is wrong also because it is in effect singling out abortion clinics as a place where "1st Amendment bullying" and intimidation is acceptable...wh ile SCOTUS preserves their own 110ft "1st Amendment Free Zone", preserves that zone around voting locations, heck it flies in the face of their previous ruling for Westboro Baptist Church's protests at soldiers' funerals where they ruled they have the right to speech, but the court stated that states could write laws providing that very "buffer zone" they threw down for abortion clinics.
+23 # jsluka 2014-06-29 01:50
I agree Buddha - the SCOTUS ruling here seems incredibly hypocritical, particularly given their OWN protective "buffer zone" from us "commoners" who might approach them and say something ("free speech") which might make them feel uncomfortable (though not even threatened the way many anti-abortion protesters aggressively confront women using abortion services).
+28 # angelfish 2014-06-28 22:27
What the idiot R.A.T.S. (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia)+ Kennedy have done, is to give free rein to the Nut-Jobs who harass women seeking medical treatment. This is OUTRAGEOUS and if they do this, then they should REMOVE the Buffer Zone around the Supreme Court and see the kinds of reception they get from the citizenry! Making ALREADY emotionally stressed women have to run a gauntlet of imbeciles who have nothing better to do with their free time is INSANE, not to mention cruel and inhuman! HOW does it infringe on the "free speech" of the Protestors, to keep them a REASONABLE distance away from women seeking HELP, NOT harassment? What it DOES do is infringe on the rights of women seeking medical care. Care that they are entitled to WITHOUT the interference of Imbeciles with axes to grind. Surely they could find more productive things to do with their time than harass strangers seeking medical treatment?
+19 # Art947 2014-06-28 23:32
It is time to have fire hoses installed at these women's health centers and turn them on full-force against these nut-jobs who would interfere with an individuals' right to avail herself with the medical advice and services that she needs and wants. The RATS who have been permitted to sit on SCOTUS need to be removed from these positions. They have created an atmosphere for contempt of law.
+17 # janie1893 2014-06-29 00:57
Have a volunteer carry a sign that says--WILL YOU ADOPT A CHILD?IF NOT,YOU DONT HAVE A SAY!!

These stupid people never think of the child's life after birth, whether it will be loved and cared for.
+19 # backwards_cinderella 2014-06-29 05:44
it's not about adoption. that will give the protestors another "option" to throw into a woman's face. a woman should be able to obtain an abortion without having ANYONE tell her to have the baby & give it up for adoption. that's just cruel. & it feeds into the anti-abortion's agenda.
+14 # ericlipps 2014-06-29 05:58
Even some abortion opponents caution that people feel more threatened than "counseled" when confronted by hostile crowds of (often) screaming people. But whether acknowledged or not, that seems to be the point of this decision: to give a green light to such intimidation.

I suppose we should be thankful the Court didn't say it was okay to break down the doors of clinics and swarm inside to "exercise First Amendment rights." But maybe they saved that one for the next case.
+9 # Citizen Mike 2014-06-29 06:50
"The Supreme Court blithely ruled that the state of Massachusetts has other laws on the books to deal with such aggressive behavior."

That is correct. Have we not all seen signs forbidding us to honk our car horns in a "hospital zone"? States that respect women's rights can amp up the laws on quiet zones for hospitals by including women's clinics in the definition of hospital. And also, the laws against harassment and assault still apply and ought to be used.

This should solve the problem in the "civilized states." As for the other states, they are in the process of breaking away and will soon secede if we are lucky.
+7 # Glen 2014-06-29 06:52
Assault, pure and simple, but just try to get police to arrive promptly. If the assault and screaming were to occur on a city street it would be considered a crime. In light of stand your ground laws and open carry, of course, street assault could be fought off.

Threats and harassment are illegal.
+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-06-29 07:21
‘... the Supreme Court itself has imposed a buffer zone greater than 35 feet around its own building...’. So what does SCOTUS fear here that doesn’t apply equally elsewhere? Unjust; but also very, very foolish.
+5 # born1929 2014-06-29 08:31
following the first incident of violence guaranteed by this ridiculous ruling a massive law suit must be filed by the damaged person(s) naming every individual and every "organization" and every government entity even remotely involved including the scotus as defendants ... loss of money damages will help bring about a sorely needed attitude adjustment in this matter
+6 # Citizen Mike 2014-06-29 08:56
Interesting to see what would happen if security escorts at women's health clinics were to take a Stand Your Ground position. Since the anti-abortionis ts include proven shooters, maybe it is time to return fire.
+8 # Working Class 2014-06-29 11:20
Now that the right wing religious fringe has won this victory - I wonder if they agree that if a woman, doctor, clinic worker or escort fears for their personal safety when being confronted by protesters that Stand Your Ground laws apply? Not advocating - just curious.
+2 # tm7devils 2014-06-29 15:43
One would assume that a person given a position as a justice on the highest court in America was able to think critically - NOT! Too bad we can't kick them out for lack of objectivity. Of course that would mean that those who gave them their position would need to be able to think critically and objectively also.
Yep...catch 22.
+5 # mozartssister 2014-06-29 19:25
So bullying vulnerable women is now "free speech." Huh. Who'd a thunk it?
0 # Dion Giles 2014-07-04 00:42
The 35ft buffer zone is ridiculous. In at least one Australian State (Victoria) the safety distance is 150 metres (in real terms, 392 feet).

An appropriate response to this bullying would be noisy demonstrations right outside Sunday services in those churches known for their outspoken hostility to women's rights over their own bodies.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.