Bursting The Bubble Zones around Abortion Clinics

Should there be “bubble zones” around abortion clinics where pro-life activists aren’t allowed to speak to patients or protest? This is the issue The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering.

Pro-life advocates say it denies their freedom of speech rights. Pro-abortion advocates say their patients should not be hassled if they decide to have an abortion, for which they receive counseling beforehand.

What are the divisive issues that prompted this Supreme Court hearing?

The Pro-Abortion Viewpoint

On any given day in abortion clinics across America, protesters congregate outside to hassle or intimidate not only employees of the abortion clinics but patients going in and out of the clinics. This prompted Massachusetts to enact a 35-foot area known as a “bubble zone” which is literally a painted line that protesters can’t cross. Massachusetts state law forbids any pro-life advocate from crossing the line to talk about abortion with customers.

Marty Walz, a former state representative who sponsored the Massachusetts law and now leads Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, says the yellow line around the buffer zone is just seven seconds from clinic doors but enables safety outside the clinics.Attorney General Martha Coakley argues that the bubble zones are not about freedom of speech but are needed to end violence and blockades outside abortion clinics.

In fact the Massachusetts law was prompted by an attack on an abortion clinic. In 1994,a gunmen outside a Massachusetts abortion clinic killed two employees and injured five more. Since 1995, there have been more than 8 murders, 7 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 acts of arson and hundreds of other acts of violence outside reproductive rights clinics. In a survey conducted by the National Abortion Federation of its members, more than 90% of facilities said they were frightened for the safety of both staff and patients. In clinics where buffer zones were enacted, 51% reported a decrease in criminal activity and 75% said it helped improve patients’ and staff members’ ability to access the clinic.

Vicki Saporta, president of the NAF says: “What began as peaceful protests in the 1970s escalated to blockading clinic entrances, arsons and bombings, acid attacks, stalking and kidnapping doctors and their families, and even murdering reproductive health care staff.”

Not only are abortion rights advocates in favor of the law, but police officers as well. Even the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, called for a moratorium on protests in the aftermath of the 1994 shootings.The penalties can be severe — those who violate the Massachusetts law could find themselves in prison.

Massachusetts is not the only state whose bubble laws are at stake – Colorado and Montana have similar laws as well.Colorado was the first to pass a bubble law in 1993 to provide a balance between free expression and privacy and safety. Colorado laws allow a 100 foot buffer zonearound all health clinics that makes it illegal to “knowingly approach within eight feet of another individual to pass a pamphlet, show a sign or engage in oral protest education or counseling without consent.”

The Pro-Life Viewpoint

Pro-life advocates are opposed to the Massachusetts law, saying that it obstructs them from saving lives. Sidewalk counselor Ellen McCullen filed suit against the Massachusetts law known as McCullen v. Coakley which prompted the U.S. Supreme Court hearing. McCullen, 77, has become the face of the Supreme Court battle and a sympathetic figure to peaceful protesters. According to McCullen, her counseling has saved hundreds of unborn babies from the fate of abortion.“I am 5 feet 1 inch tall,” McCullen said in a filed statement for the case. “My body type can be described as ‘plump.’ I am a mother and grandmother.”

However, not all pro-lifers use aggressive tactics. Joe Baker, founder of Save the Storks says their organization parks sonogram vans outside of abortion centers to provide counseling and give women an alternative.“You won’t catch us chaining ourselves to any doors or something goofy like that,” Baker said. “We are out there providing a service. We’re not there to debate anyone. In fact it’s in our manual never to engage in debate.”

Not only are lives at issues, but First Amendment rights to free speech as well. There is the fear that if you limit one group’s right to protest you put in danger all groups’ constitutional right to protest. Protests are about people stating what they believe trying to persuade others to act. Would this law jeopardize a fundamental right? Pro-lifers feel the law ‘indiscriminately criminalizes even peaceful, consensual, non-obstructive conversation and leafleting,’

Bubble Laws on The Chopping Block

Without a doubt, bubble laws could be on the chopping block. There is concern that the Supreme Court has more conservative members than it did in the past and that the Republican anti-abortion factions are making strides by enacting state laws that can limit a woman’s right to have an abortion.

No matter which side of the debate you are on, I think we could all agree that violence is never called for. Whether it’s this law or another, aggression outside abortion clinics should never be condoned, nor should patients be bullied, intimidated or threatened.

About The Author

Jeffrey A. Kasky, Esq. is a Florida adoption lawyer and Vice President of One World Adoption Services, Inc., a Florida-licensed not-for-profit child placing agency. Jeff’s diverse career experiences include co-authoring the book, “99 Things You Wish You Knew Before … Choosing Adoption” with Robert A. Kasky, Florida-certified law enforcement officer, and involvement in the autism community, including a TV show focused on helping families with legal issues related to autism called “Spectrum at Law” on The Autism Channel. A practicing attorney since 1995, he has worked on more than one thousand adoption cases.