Massachusetts Senate Introduces Bill Responding to Supreme Court Buffer Zone Ruling

Called "An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities," the bill was proposed in response to a June Supreme Court ruling that dealt a blow to buffer zone advocates.

Clinic escorts outside a Planned Parenthood facility. brunosan // flickr

On Monday, the Massachusetts Senate filed a bill designed to strengthen the safety of individuals entering and exiting abortion clinics in the state. Called “An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities,” the bill was proposed in response to a June Supreme Court ruling that dealt a blow to buffer zone advocates.

SD 2106 was drafted with the support of the Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. “Women must be able to access reproductive health care free from intimidation and threats,” Coakley said in a statement. “This bill protects those patients, and the employees providing their care,” added Gov. Patrick.

Pro-choice advocates say the bill would aim to protect people entering and leaving clinics, but would do so within the legal standards established by the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, which struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone outside of clinics.

Specifically, the bill would ensure clear and safe passage to and from a facility by making it illegal to impede access, and by prohibiting the use of force to prevent access. Law enforcement would have the power to disperse groups of two or more people when they impede access to a facility. The dispersed group would then be required to stay 25 feet from the entrance for eight hours. Additionally, protesters would be prohibited from interfering with cars that are leaving or parking at a clinic.

Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement that the state must act quickly to address the safety concerns of people entering and exiting clinics.

“The Supreme Court’s recent decision has left Massachusetts in an emergency situation regarding staff and patients of reproductive health care centers,” said Sen. Chandler. “The Commonwealth has had actual experience with violence against staff and patients. Therefore, it is crucial to provide protections for the void left by the Supreme Court’s decision before further harassment, intimidation and violence occurs.”

In 1994, a receptionist at a Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts was shot dead by an anti-choice activist. After murdering her and wounding three others, the killer went straight to another clinic, where he shot dead the receptionist there and wounded two others. He was later lauded by anti-choice supporters, including Donald Spitz, the director of Pro-Life Virginia, who shouted “Thank you for what you did” into a megaphone.

According to the National Abortion Federation, between 1977 and 2013 there were at least 6,849 violent attacks against abortion providers in the United States and Canada, including eight murders, 42 bombings, 181 cases of arson, and 100 acid attacks.