Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision today in McCullen v Coakley, finding that Massachusetts’ 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violated the free speech rights of protesters to harangue and intimidate uh “counsel” women entering them. It looks like the court bought the plaintiffs’ carefully constructed image of kindly “plump grandmothers” being the typical sort of protesters patients would encounter outside clinics rather than the actual intimidating people known to be there. I’m certain that the Justices weren’t thinking about these people when they rendered their decision.
SCOTUS was concerned about the free “transmission of ideas”.
The buffer zones serve the Commonwealth’s legitimate interests in maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and in preserving access to adjacent reproductive healthcare facilities. See Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N. Y., 519 U. S. 357, 376. At the same time, however, they impose serious burdens on petitioners’ speech, depriving them of their two primary methods of communicating with arriving patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. Those forms of expression have historically been closely associated with the transmission of ideas. While the Act may allow petitioners to “protest” outside the buffer zones, petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives. It is thus no answer to say that petitioners can still be seen and heard by women within the buffer zones. If all that the women can see and hear are vociferous opponents of abortion, then the buffer zones have effectively stifled petitioners’ message. Pp. 19–23.
That passage is so steeped with condescending assumptions about women who get abortions I just can’t even. Do the Justices believe that women who abort are so incapable of knowing what they’re doing when they abort and so bereft of close relationships in their lives that they need to have these “personal, caring, consensual conversations” with anti-abortion activists? On that “consensual” part, why do they need to get closer than 35 feet to persuade a woman to engage in a conversation with them of her own volition? The answer is they don’t. The Court was advised of established history of anti-choicers using their “free speech” to harass and terrorize women and clinic workers, but chose to take the anti-choicers at their word.
Contrast that to another type of buffer zone: The state of Arizona has no buffer zone law for abortion clinics, naturally, though Phoenix has an 8 foot bubble ordinance. Arizona does, however, go to great lengths to protect voters from being pestered by eager partisan activists pressing pamphlets in their hands as they enter the voting booth. People engaged in “electioneering” are required to remain a full 75 feet beyond the entrance of the polling place.
H. Except in the case of an emergency, any facility that is used as a polling place on election day or that is used as an early voting site during the period of early voting shall allow persons to electioneer and engage in other political activity outside of the seventy-five foot limit prescribed by section 16-515 in public areas and parking lots used by voters.
I’ve done this sort of electioneering a few times, for candidates and ballot measures, and have been able to have conversations with people who were interested in the information I presented just fine. I’d estimate about 5% of the voters I’ve greeted as they got out of their cars stopped to chat. The vast majority of voters will either politely take your literature and proceed to the door or they’ll walk right by you as if you weren’t there. (I suspect you’d see a similar behavior pattern with abortion seekers, were anti-choicers required to abide by the same rules as activists at voting locations do.) The reason that those electioneering laws were put in place was to stop people from physically blocking or bullying people out of voting and I bet that were a case to overturn them to go before SCOTUS, the liberal Justices at least would get right away what the plaintiffs were trying to do. There would be none of this lugubrious, infantilizing “caring conversations” horseshit. Very disappointed in them.
And Hobby Lobby is next. Ugh.