Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston.

Credit: Anne Mostue / WGBH

Brave New World: Preparing For A Post-Buffer Zone Reality

June 26, 2014

The United States Supreme Court today struck down a Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics. 

In front of the large Planned Parenthood building on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, there’s a painted, yellow line 35 feet from the door. It’s the line anti-abortion activists have not been allowed to cross-- the so-called buffer zone.

Ray Neary stands behind it, holding a sign with an image of a fetus. He says he isn’t sure when the Supreme Court ruling goes into effect but he hopes to step over the line soon.

“What it does, it forces you into the position of yelling, raising our voice. And that’s not what you’re trying to do. I am trying to educate people as to what goes on in that facility,” he says. 

Neary says he’s glad to hear the buffer zone will be removed so he can approach people and hand them pro-life pamphlets. He and others have been required to keep their distance since 2007, when Massachusetts became the first state in the country to enact a buffer zone law. Two people were killed by abortion opponent John Salvi at a Brookline clinic back in 1994 and there had been growing concern about harassment and intimidation tactics used by some protestors outside clinics that perform abortions.  

A woman named Anita, who walks out of the clinic, voices her concern about the ruling.  

“I really believe in free speech, and I think that people ought to have the right to protest. But I also believe in the rights of people to privacy and not to feel harassed. And people who come here for abortions are feeling very vulnerable.”

The Supreme Court did rule that the Massachusetts law violated the First Amendment by including public streets and sidewalks in the buffer zones. But the court did not call for the removal of all buffer zones.

Martha Walz, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, says at the very least she will take legal action to seek injunctions against aggressive or harassing protestors.

“And we will use the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the Mass. Civil Rights Act and other state laws that protect access to health center entrances.”

Back at Planned Parenthood , Ray Neary says he doesn’t believe there will be more protesters than usual, just that they hope to have greater access to and attempt one on one conversations with people entering the clinic.   

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