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Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts’ Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone
The Massachusetts law is similar, though not identical, to a Buffer Zone law in Montana which was enacted in 2005. The Montana law states that protesters cannot come within eight feet of someone entering or leaving a healthcare facility. The Supreme Court also continues to recognize the government’s significant interest in protecting access to safe and legal abortion care.
Buffer zones are intended to reduce incidents of harassment, intimidation, and violence at healthcare facilities and increase patient and employee privacy. Anti-choice protesters have a history of violent acts, including within Montana. Three clinics providing abortions—in Kalispell, Missoula, and Helena—were victims in a string of fire bombings by an anti-choice extremist in the early 1990s. Most recently, in March 2014, the same Kalispell clinic was the target of extensive vandalism and forced to close its doors indefinitely.
NARAL Pro-Choice Montana executive director, Maggie Moran, expressed her disappointment in the ruling:
"Buffer zones strike a reasonable balance between the right to free speech and the right to access healthcare and employment without intimidation and violence. Many anti-choice activists protest peacefully, but we cannot ignore the fact that there are some who are violent and harass women and men entering facilities. We have a poignant example of this extreme violence in Kalispell just this March when a vandal maliciously destroyed Susan Cahill’s clinic. This ruling will simply put women and the professionals who care for them at a greater risk. We believe that everyone has the right to access healthcare and employment free of intimidation and violence. And we will continue to work toward this end in Montana.”
Clinic buffer zones are not unlike other buffer zones around polling places and at political conventions. They balance the ability of protesters to portray their message while assuring the ability of people exercising their constitutional rights, to do so without fear of harm and undue intimidation. Protesters can clearly be heard and seen from the buffer zones and nothing prevents a woman who wants more information from engaging with protesters further. The Supreme Court of the United States, in fact, has a buffer zone surrounding it.
Anti-choice violence exacerbates the shortage of abortion providers and often extends to future abortion providers. As of November 2013, 91% of Montana counties had no abortion provider. (See NARAL Pro-Choice America’s "Who Decides” publication) In Montana, two providers have closed since October 2013; one directly due to extreme anti-choice violence. More and more women are at risk of losing access to safe and legal abortion because anti-choice forces have created an atmosphere of intense intimidation and violence is both deterring new physicians from entering the field and has caused others to stop providing abortion services.
"The Montana buffer zone law stands despite the Supreme Court ruling and we are proud of that. Montanans believe in the right to privacy and the right to access healthcare unimpeded. Some anti-choice protesters have been known to stalk healthcare providers and patients and even take pictures of people entering the buildings. Just in 2012, extremists launched the website, AbortionDocs.org to collect detailed information on every abortion provider in the country. I should note that Susan Cahill is listed on the site and that it has even been updated since the vandalism in March to include a video of news coverage from NBC Montana. This ruling is very concerning, but we are grateful for the strong protections here in the state and we remain committed to protecting access to reproductive healthcare,” Moran states.
Contact: Maggie Moran, Executive Director