Keeping protesters away from clinics
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|Mon, 11-12-2007 - 3:08pm|
I respect the right to free speech, but I feel there needs to be a better way to moderate the behavior of protesters outside abortion clinics. Some way that allows them to hold their signs and chant their chants, but includes some measure of protection for the patients and clinic workers being harassed.
In Massachussetts, a new bill was recently passed establishing a buffer zone of 35 feet around clinics within which protesters can't come, and underscores a previous law that protesters must stay at least 6 feet from patients and clinic workers.
What do you think of this as a way to allow freedom from harassment as well as freedom to protest? Will it get the job done? Is it enough? Is it fair?
STATE POLITICS & POLICY | Massachusetts Legislature Gives Final Approval of Bill Expanding Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
The Massachusetts Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would expand abortion clinic buffer zones from 18 feet to 35 feet, the New York Times reports.
The state Senate recently passed the bill unanimously, and the House passed it by a 122-28 vote. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is expected to sign the bill into law this week. According to the Times, the measure would apply to 10 clinics in the state that offer abortion but will not apply to hospitals.
"The basic goal of the bill is to make sure patients and staff can enter reproductive health facilities without being obstructed, intimidated and harassed," state Rep. Carl Sciortino (D), co-sponsor of the bill, said. He added, "Current law is completely unenforceable and did not protect patients and staff the way it intended" (Zezima, New York Times, 11/9).
The current law, which was passed in 2000, requires protesters to stay at least six feet away from clinic employees and patients and establishes an 18-foot zone within which individuals may not interact with clinic visitors or staff for the purpose of counseling or protesting. There have been no successful prosecutions under the law because officials are not clear how to prove patient consent or refusal when protesters approach (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 10/25).
Opponents of the new measure say it violates free speech rights. "There's no question there will be litigation," Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said, adding, "This certainly clashes with First Amendment right, and is something we should all be concerned about." According to the Times, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2001 dismissed a challenge to the current buffer zone law. Kelly O'Bryan, political director for NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said, "We're not trying to silence at all," adding, "We're trying to have a very small, but important, zone of safety for patients and staff who are entering these facilities" (New York Times, 11/9).