The state Legislature has responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrong-headed ruling striking down the 35-foot buffer zone outside abortion clinics with a new law that is in some ways better than its predecessor. This one gives police the authority to disperse crowds or remove individuals who are threatening a woman’s constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court, which has a substantial buffer zone around its building to protect it from critics and protesters, deprived women of the same protection when it ruled that the state’s 35-foot buffer zone was unconstitutional. The new legislation signed into law Thursday by Governor Deval Patrick requires protesters -- "sidewalk counselors" in the out-of-touch court’s definition -- to stay at least 25 feet from the clinic’s entrances and gives police the power to charge them with a misdemeanor for failing to disperse.
Further, the use of force or the threat of force to keep a woman from entering or leaving a clinic -- which might be for health services unrelated to abortions -- could be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony under the new law depending on the extent of the behavior. The law also expands the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act to allow the attorney general to seek damages in court against abusive protesters charged by police.
Predictably, protesters say they will sue once again in response to the law. The political right that used to disparage lawyers now heads to court whenever it has a gripe with government, from buffer zones to the Affordable Care Act, to, in the most egregious example, House Republicans’ taking President Obama to court on the grounds that they don’t approve of him.
Abortion protesters consumed with their free speech rights refuse to acknowledge that women, as Governor Patrick said Thursday, have the right under the law "to choose what to do about an unwanted pregnancy." Women also have the right to enter a clinic without being bullied, lectured and intimidated. The new clinic law protects the rights of all parties, and in doing so, asks protesters to be courteous and abide by the rules in exercising their rights. That is not too much to ask.