Pro-abortion-rights activists regroup after SCOTUS ruling


The Massachusetts attorney general and pro-abortion-rights activists are regrouping with state lawmakers and law enforcement after the Supreme Court overturned an abortion clinic buffer zone law.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that found a Massachusetts law prohibiting protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics unconstitutional because it violated free speech rights. [Read the court’s ruling.]

Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said she was disappointed with the ruling and said it re-opened the fight to protect women in the state from anti-abortion activists at health clinics.

“With today’s decision that fight begins again,” Coakley said during a press conference Thursday. “We are vowed to make sure that we will continue here in Massachusetts to provide for the protections the decision still leaves and ... to work with our legislatures and others to find what other tools will be available to us moving forward.”

She pointed out that while the ruling struck down fixed buffer zones for abortion clinics, federal law still prohibits anyone obstructing entrances of abortion clinics, and women seeking abortions are still protected from harassment and threats.

Coakley added she is considering toughening the existing laws and raising penalties for those who harass women at abortion clinics.

Marty Walz, CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, echoed Coakley’s remarks and said the state's abortion clinics will add more escorts to protect women and healthcare workers.

Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), co-chairwomen of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, said they hope Massachusetts lawmakers will quickly rewrite laws to conform to the Supreme Court’s decision, and find a better balance between protecting women at abortion clinics versus protesters’ right to free speech. 

“While the Supreme Court today overturned this large fixed buffer zone in Massachusetts it’s important to note it left the opening for Massachusetts to re-write its laws,” DeGette said.

DeGette was the top Democratic state House legislature when Colorado signed a buffer zone law giving women who go to abortion clinics and healthcare workers an eight-foot personal space requirement from anti-abortion protesters.

That law was challenged in the 2000 Supreme Court case, Hill vs. Colorado, and upheld.

However, Massachusetts had its own six-foot floating buffer zone law based on Colorado’s before it adopted the fixed buffer zone law. 

Massachusetts lawmakers argued the floating buffer zone wasn’t effective in stopping protesters from harassing women seeking abortions.

Pro-abortion-rights activists and lawmakers used a unified line of attack on the Supreme Court, calling its decision hypocritical when the court itself has a fixed buffer zone.

Walz noted the Supreme Court sidestepped its own buffer zone rule.

“The rationale expressed in the decision certainly calls into question the constitutionality of the Supreme Court’s buffer zone,” she added.

Thursday’s ruling is expected to affect more than Massachusetts.

So far, nine localities from San Francisco and Santa Barbara to Pittsburg and Pensacola have fixed buffer zones at abortion clinics. New Hampshire also has a similar law that is expected to go into effect next month.