Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that established protected buffer zones around reproductive health centers. This is very disappointing for those of us who believe people should be able to access health care free from harassment and intimidation. The decision holds the protesters’ right to harass and intimidate the public as more important than a person’s right to reproductive health care. The fact that the author of the decision characterizes these protests as “personal, caring, consensual conversations…” demonstrates their lack of understanding of what our patients are up against.
This decision will not directly affect patients and staff at our Augusta health center, because the parking lot provides its own buffer against the protesters who stand on our street.
However, it is likely that anti-choice protesters will be emboldened by the decision, a development that will certainly make things more unpleasant and threatening for our patients and our staff. And, of course, the decision may have significant implications for the buffer zone ordinance enacted recently by the City of Portland to protect Planned Parenthood patients from harassment.
The good news about the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley is that it’s a relatively narrow ruling – it doesn’t prohibit any regulation of protests outside clinics, but states that a blanket buffer zone like that in effect in Massachusetts is too burdensome. The Court states that it remains appropriate to enforce harassment laws, or laws intended to prevent violence and obstruction of entrances. This is encouraging, and may lead to a host of new legal strategies for protecting clinic access.
In the meantime, Maine Family Planning will continue to provide safe, professional, compassionate health care to our patients. And we will also continue to work for laws ensuring that Maine’s women, men and teens are able to exercise their reproductive rights in a way that is best for them.
ALERT: The Supreme Court has one more major decision to hand down. On Monday, they will rule on the so-called “Hobby Lobby” case, which asks whether a secular employer may refuse to comply with the federal mandate that health insurance cover contraceptives, based on the employer’s religious convictions. This decision could have broad-reaching implications, not only for access to contraception, but on a broad range of federal laws. Check in with Maine Family Planning on Monday to learn about the Court’s decision and what it might mean for Maine.
~ Kate Brogan