Nel's New Day

January 17, 2014

Reproductive Rights Subject of SCOTUS, House

This past week, both the federal judicial and legislative systems addressed women’s reproductive rights. The one in Congress was a direct attack while the U.S. Supreme Court just questioned whether women’s reproductive rights should be protected. Last Wednesday, SCOTUS heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley about the 35-foot safety buffer zones and Massachusetts law requires about reproductive health clinics. The purpose of these zones is to help patients, doctors, and other healthcare workers enter facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Twenty years ago, the ruling in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center made a safety buffer zone constitution after SCOTUS heard the Florida case. As Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor  Smeal said, “We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence. Surveys show that buffer zones decrease criminal activity and increase safe access to clinics.” The Massachusetts zone was enacted in 2000 following years of intimidation and violence, including the 1994 murders of two clinic receptionists—Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38—by anti-choice extremist Joh Salvi at two separate Brookline (MA) clinics. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.

After anti-choice demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate people who wanted to enter the clinic, Massachusetts strengthened its law in 2007. The law has survived challenges in lower federal courts as judges found that the law is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the public without infringing on the First Amendment rights of others. Many acts of violence, including murders, occur as people, including a volunteer clinic escort, enter the clinics. The buffer zone provides a line of defense.

The Massachusetts law doesn’t keep people from talking to the protesters, and the protesters are permitted to say anything they want. The objection from protesters is that they aren’t permitted to get into people’s faces—or perhaps to commit violence. The face of the protesters in the court is a sweet-looking grandmother, Eleanor McCullen, who says, “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.”

Planned Parenthood ‘s amicus brief has a different picture. According to Amanda Marcotte:

“Protesters ‘wore Boston Police Department hats and shirts and stationed themselves, carrying clipboards, at the garage entrance,’ demanding that patients give them personal information. Protesters would attack clinic escorts with umbrellas. While the prior law disallowed directly approaching patients, anti-choicers would follow them around screaming invectives, often through bullhorns. When cops were called, the protesters argued that they were just following, not ‘approaching.’ The police department itself suggested a stronger buffer zone around the front door.”

Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a Virginia-based activist who has volunteered in clinic defense in eight states, said, “Patients know it’s going to be a gauntlet, and they approach it like a combat zone.” Lori Gregory-Garrott, an escort at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, wrote about the daily battle just trying to get patients past a wall of hostile protesters even if the patients are only picking up their birth control prescriptions. Megan, a counselor at an independent Massachusetts clinic, talked about the accusations of murder and “going to hell” that she constantly hears.

The 35-foot zone about clinics where 90 percent of the work is primary care, contraception, cancer screening, and gynecological services is far less than those for funerals, political conventions, and polling places. Catholic University law professor Mark Rienzi, representing the anti-choice demonstrators in SCOTUS, claims, “Public sidewalks are places that people are supposed to be free to exchange information and exchange ideas.” Polling places require 150 feet, and, by federal law, funerals require 300 feet. A 252 X 98 foot plaza in front of the Supreme Court building is used as its buffer zone.

Justice Antonin Scalia was furious in 2000 after six of the nine judges ruled in favor of a buffer zone in Hill v. ColoradoHe furiously announced, “Our longstanding commitment to uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate is miraculously replaced by the power of the state to protect an unheard of right to be let alone on the public streets.” Except, of course, in the case of the plaza that protects him. This time, he objected to a lawyer’s characterization of the people as protesters,” asserting that the petitioners in this case “don’t want to protest . . . they want to talk to women about abortion.”  If this case were only about protesting, he continued, a thirty-five-foot buffer zone “might not be so bad.”

People at clinics without buffers have reported serious problems beyond being pushed out of the way and sprayed by some unknown liquid. In Alabama, volunteer and clinic escort Pamela Watters described both verbal and physical assaults including someone a protester from Virginia who pushed another volunteer, a great-grandmother, into a patient’s moving car.

When protesters blocked a clinic entrance in Chicago, the city passed an ordinance requiring that protesters stay eight feet away from patients if they are within 50 feet of the clinic entrance. Protesters are still harassing patients by wearing orange vests like the clinic escorts, giving baby booties in gift bags to patients, and videotaping patients.

At EMW Women’s Surgical Center of Louisville, one of the only two clinics in state, an average of 40 protesters line the sidewalks every day, a number that can swell to 100 if students from local bible colleges are bused in. They use megaphones, display signs with aborted fetuses pictures, and block open car doors so that patients can’t get out of their vehicles. The police don’t always show up if someone asks for their help. That’s what people call “freedom of speech” in reference to a lawful act of going into a women’s clinic. That’s what the highest justices in the land are discussing in the safety of their court.

The day before the Supreme Court heard the case about buffer zones, they declined to hear a case about the Arizona law preventing abortions after 18 weeks. The law stated 20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, but the people who voted in favor of the law are apparently science knowledge-challenged. Conception comes about two weeks after menstruation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the law unconstitutional and permanently blocked its enforcement. SCOTUS’s refusal to hear an appeal means that the law has been struck down.

Two other defenses of pro-choice came this year when the justices refused to hear Oklahoma’s defense of two anti-choice measures. One would have prohibited the use of one drug that is used to induce an abortion in the first weeks of a pregnancy, and a second would have required costly ultrasound tests for women seeking an abortion.

While SCOTUS works on clinic buffer zones, the House Judiciary Committee hearing spent last week trying to figure out how to keep middle-class consumers from getting health care subsidies if their plans include abortion coverage in H.R. 7.

H.R. 7 men

The committee takes pride in H.R. 7 as a “pro-jobs” bill. Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said:

“[It is] very, very true that having a growing population and having new children brought into the world is not harmful to job creation. It very much promotes job creation for all the care and services and so on that need to be provided by a lot of people to raise children.”

This isn’t the only crazy conservative reason to block all abortions. Rick Santorum said during his presidential run that having children makes the Social Security fund solvent. Former GOP-supporter Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) said in 2007 that he wants women to have babies to “fill our Army.”

The next time that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) claims that the House is enacting “jobs bills,” check to see exactly what these are. As for the buffer zones, Eileen Shim got it right: “If abortion clinic protesters weren’t such bullies, we wouldn’t need buffer zones.”

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1 Comment »

  1. If only the pro-life protesters spoke “gently” and “lovingly”, I might be more sympathetic towards them. That is clearly not the case, however.

    Like

    Comment by eurobrat — January 17, 2014 @ 9:33 PM | Reply


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