Unfreeing Massachusetts Sidewalks

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Massachusetts demonstrated its abortion radicalism today as Governor Deval Patrick signed a new buffer-zone law under the guise of protecting public safety. In doing so, he makes the state less safe for the unborn and less free for the mother who feels pressure from the culture and due to her circumstances to abort her child.

The state’s previous 35-foot buffer-zone law was struck down unanimously by the Supreme Court earlier this summer. In a statement, one of the legal counsels for the lead plaintiff, Eleanor McCullen, calls the new 25-foot buffer-zone law “a backdoor attempt to interfere with the constitutional right of free speech in the service of women seeking abortion whose minds are not made up — women who are looking for the hope, help, love, and concrete aid offered by Eleanor McCullen and other peaceful sidewalk counselors. This new law chills life-saving speech by threatening massive civil fines for non-violent acts such as peacefully offering a leaflet of information to passersby on a public sidewalk.”

Michael DePrimo continues:

The reality is that individuals in the abortion industry have a business incentive to falsely characterize any attempt at pro-life communication on the public ways outside abortion clinics as a form of harassment or intimidation, no matter how peaceful. It is important for law enforcement to understand that momentary attempts at peaceful communication to offer hope, help and love are constitutionally protected expressive conduct, despite the legislature’s rejection of an amendment offered by Representative Jim Lyons that would have made that expressly clear.  

If a citizen is threatening public safety, he or she can be arrested under current state or federal law, and then enjoined by a judge based on evidence and testimony. The new  law signed by the Governor ignores those common resources, and instead invites state censorship by enabling police to order peaceful citizens to stand on a 25-foot line for the remainder of the abortion clinics’ business hours. The new law is unconstitutional not only because it is vague and overbroad, but also because it purports to grant to law enforcement the power to issue a temporary restraining order—a power that may only be exercised by courts.

The first amendment protection of free speech cannot be placed behind painted lines. My client Eleanor McCullen and the other peaceful sidewalk counselors will continue to serve the women of Boston who deserve real alternatives to abortion.  We will closely monitor law enforcement’s use of the new law to ensure that our clients’ peaceful exercise of first amendment rights is not infringed.”

As I’ve written about before, McCullen has succeeded in saving many lives as while standing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston. In such circumstances, not being relegated to the edge of the sidewalk or the street can make the difference in whether or not a life ends. Furthermore, I realized as I watched her at work earlier this month that she can provide hope for a mother after she has exercised her legal choice to end the life of her child – knowing the woman will need a friend for healing. Without the buffer zone  –after the Court struck it down – she was able to stand with her sign not far outside the clinic door offering hope, help, and love, happy to hand out her card to anyone.

We are content or indifferent to abortion radicalism because of the euphemisms and manipulations so often employed in our public discourse on the matter. Paying attention to details is the sidewalk on which we will protect freedom and human dignity. 

This has been amended since posting. 

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