Along with passage of tough new laws addressing gun violence, Beacon Hill’s priority this month as its session winds down must be establishment of a new buffer zone law protecting women entering clinics where they may or may not be getting abortions. Free speech is the law of the land, but so is Roe v. Wade, and that right to free speech does not extend to verbal threats and harassment.
As America has been reminded every June for the last few years when the U.S. Supreme Court wraps up its session with a flurry of poorly argued and ideologically based decisions, the justices are no more infallible than the rest of us. At Tuesday’s Supreme Rally for Women’s Equality in Boston, Deval Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor, reminded the large crowd that past U.S. Supreme Court rulings upheld racist Jim Crow laws and shot down efforts at achieving equality for minorities. Undaunted, civil rights advocates continued their campaign, achieving rights through other avenues until later Supreme Courts undid the damage wrought by their predecessors.
In ruling that Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone was unconstitutional, the Court, locked securely in its bubble, declared that the protesters who gather outside clinics are "sidewalk counselors." This is first an insult to counselors, who are trained professionals. And "counselors" do not harass, intimidate or lecture women who have not sought their advice, which is what happens when women are forced to walk the gantlet of rude and raucous protesters outside clinics.
The 35-foot buzzer zone balanced competing rights and brought a measure of decorum to the clinics, and while the Court -- which for the record is protected from hearing dissenting opinions by a huge buffer zone surrounding its building -- unwisely tossed it, it did not ban buffer zones in general. The Legislature is now charged with finding, as have other states, another method or methods of protecting women from those who don’t respect their rights.