Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley outlined possible legislative steps that the state will take to ensure unimpeded access to women's health clinics that offer abortion at a press conference on Wednesday.
This comes in the wake of last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the 35 foot buffer zone separating protestors from the clinic's entrance was unconstitutional.
Martha Walz, president of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said within days of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision striking down the state’s buffer zone law that anti-abortion protesters were literally in the faces of Planned Parenthood patients.
"This Saturday, we had protestors following our patients right up to the front door of our health center, whereas before under the buffer zone law they were not able to follow right up to the doorway screaming at our patients as they tried to access health care. That was a significant difference," she said. "Our patents did not have any space at all without the protesters in their face when they tried to come in to obtain health care."
That’s why stronger protections are needed, said Attorney General Martha Coakley, who stood with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and leaders of the pro-choice Movement. Coakley, who is also running for governor, outlined three legislative steps to give police more power to disperse protesters. She also said that the state is working to adopt on a state level some existing federal protections around health clinics.
"In addition to passing legislation, I think that we are-- with the Boston police and the police in cities and towns within Massachusetts are going to work with Planned Parenthood to monitor if there are additional other problems that we see that harass, intimidate, invade the rights of people who are trying to see that."
During the Wednesday press conference, Coakley said that anti-abortion groups were free to work in drafting legislation.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said this is a step that they were willing to take.
"If we’re not denied access to the state legislators and the Attorney General’s office we’d be more than happy to just bring our concerns to her in the hope that whatever legislation she puts forward consistently upholds the First Amendment as well as the concerns of Planned Parenthood," Beckwith said.
But Martha Walz, of Planned Parenthood, said the issue is not about free speech, it’s about intimidation. And in the absence of a buffer zone around the organization’s clinics they will rely on the next best thing:
"We have an increased presence of police at our Boston health center to make sure that those who are there protesting abide by the current laws and even when we get new laws that we will have the police available to enforce those laws, as well," she said.
Meanwhile, outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Wednesday, you would never know there was a controversy at all.
Folks were going about their business inside and outside the yellow arc drawn on the sidewalk that has been rendered irrelevant by the Supreme Court. But Planned Parenthood and Right to Life forces both agree that this respite from protest will change on Saturday when those who require the clinics services show up for appointments in greater numbers.
Gov. Patrick said he hopes to sign a legislative response to the Supreme Court's decision outlawing the state's buffer zone law by the end of the month.