Congratulations, SCOTUS on your decision in McCullen v. Coakley, and congratulations Massachusetts, for writing your buffer zone law in such a sloppy manner, simply to “make [the police’s] job so much easier.” You have both added to the list of times history has failed American women.
First, let’s be clear: SCOTUS did not rule all buffer zones around abortion clinics to be unconstitutional (I know it’s confusing given that when you Google “McCullen v. Coakley” all of the news articles imply otherwise); they struck down the actual law that Massachusetts had in place because of its “inadequate tailoring.” Oh, and because McCullen is an old lady and played up the idea of “sidewalk counseling” instead of the violent protests that also occur in front of abortion clinics. In reality, SCOTUS determined NOTHING.
As you read through my blog and other news sources, it’s important to start with some background information instead of just learning everything we know from misleading headlines like Abortion Rights Lose a Buffer (the implication being that buffer zones themselves are always banned) and Yet Another Unanimous Judgment in McCullen v. Coakley (yes, it was a unanimous overall decision, but far from a unanimous opinion).
- 141 years ago the Comstock Act 1843 was passed, which banned the mailing or interstate transport of any device or medicine that would prevent conception or cause an unlawful abortion, as well as any pamphlet or literature that could lead to preventing conception or causing an abortion.
Thankfully, America acted fast in protecting the rights of people and repealed the Act immediately. Oh wait, just kidding! It’s largely still on the books, though for whatever reason bugging the hell out of people who might just be getting a Depo shot isn’t.
- In 2000, SCOTUS heard Hill v. Colorado, a remarkably similar case to McCullen. that dealt with a law that created a 100 foot radius around the abortion clinics, in which people were prohibited from going within 8 feet of another person, without their consent, to distribute information, leaflets, counseling, etc. Guess what? The law was found to be A-Okay.
Since my initial intention was to write only about McCullen, I’m going to move on and try to give some information on the case and maybe even on the opinions, depending how much I rant. But have no fear, I’ll be doing a few more entries explaining the SCOTUS opinions, the differences between McCullen and the seemingly identical Hill case, and some more background information and often overlooked points on how this isn’t the only example of women getting screwed over.
But for now, here’s some information on McCullen:
– In 2007, Massachusetts revised its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a criminal act to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an abortion clinic (excluding those inside hospitals), with some exceptions (obviously including anyone going inside the building or working there).
– Public property is traditionally where protesting (or “sidewalk counseling”) of all forms takes place, so it’s kind of a big deal for government to allow your First Amendment rights to be squashed there. In fact, it’s kind of a big deal to squash free speech in general.
– However, there are situations where you free speech can and will be limited in public spaces: “Regulation of the time, place, or manner of protected speech must be narrowly tailored to serve the government’s legitimate, content-neutral interests but that it need not be the least restrictive or least intrusive means of doing so. Rather, the requirement of narrow tailoring is satisfied ‘so long as the…regulation promotes a substantial government interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation.'”
– Blah, blah, blah, right? Basically, the point is that if the ban is content neutral (i.e., all opinions are suppressed in that location or timeframe), it isn’t really suppressing your free speech since no one is allowed to
protest sidewalk counsel in that zone. The government can’t take away your right to tell people you think they’re murderers sidewalk counsel if it’s your only opportunity/outlet, and the government needs to attempt other measures or prove that other restrictions would be less effective than outright banning free speech in a public area.
So what went wrong (and right) in Massachusetts?
In the Opinion of the Court, SCOTUS disagreed with McCullen’s argument that the ban wasn’t content neutral. Banning human interaction in front of an abortion clinic, she argued, was really only affecting anti-abortion speech, making the ban automatically content based. They agreed that by nature of the arena, it disproportionately affected pro-abortion speech…but that didn’t matter. “Whether petitioners violated the Act ‘depends’ not ‘on what they say’ but simply on where they say it.” Good, so let’s check that off. Next!
McCullen also argued that prior to the 2007 buffer zone, by simply not being allowed on the private property (including the parking lot) owned by the Planned Parenthood where she frequently
harassed sidewalk counseled women, she already “appeared suspicious and untrustworthy.” This inconvenience of not being able to follow these women, known to many as “trespassing,” would force McCullen to do things like raise her voice, and the good Lord knows that it’s rude to yell at people as you convince them to raise their unwanted child. Thankfully, McCullen has convinced 80 (probably extremely happy) women to keep their unborn children since the buffer was enacted. But 80 isn’t enough!!
That whole trespassing, buffer zone thing isn’t the only obstacle. Sometimes it’s difficult for McCullen to even tell who is just a random pedestrian and who is in need of some serious saving!! And that doesn’t always leave her with enough time to “initiate a conversation” with these women before they are in the
green buffer zone. The horror.
Since SCOTUS recognizes that in the case of
brainwashing emotionally manipulating convincing someone to not have an abortion right in front of the clinic, one on one conversation is most effective, it’s really important that McCullen isn’t so restricted.
SCOTUS points out other states and cities have laws that kind of get to the point that Massachusetts was trying to get to, like NYC’s anti-harassment ordinance. This pretty much sums up how Massachussets really f’ed up:
According to respondents, this history shows that Massachusetts has tried less restrictive alternatives to the buffer zons, to no avail. We cannot accept that contention. Although respondents claim that Massachusetts ‘tried other laws already on the books,’ they identity not a single prosecution brought under those laws within at least the last 17 years….in short the Commonwealth has not shown that it seriously undertook to address the problem with less intrusive tools readily available to it….it is not enough for Massachusetts simply to say that other approaches have not worked.
So there you go. Apparently witnesses said it was just “easier” to do things this way and basically sounded super lazy. Um, hello? If you really want to get shit done, you follow the red tape procedure. I dropped out of college with no degree and I know this, what do these politicians and lobbyists do all day? Make an example out of a protestor, feebly try something else….don’t just sit around and go “derrr it’s all we could do!!” Surely, you had someone who wasn’t a grandmother like McCullen spit on a patient, push an employee – anything, anything that could have been prosecuted and then cited in court to discredit the grandma angle!!! This decision was largely linked to the idea of counseling and one on one conversations, so what happens when there’s a mass shooting or fight in front of a clinic and they wish to create a buffer zone? SCOTUS doesn’t say when that’s acceptable or how many feet a buffer can consist of.
It’s now almost 10:00 pm on a freaking Friday, so later this weekend I’ll wrap up with why I think the end of the majority opinion is wrong, the shitshow that is the dissenting opinion, and my thoughts on Hill v. Colorado.