Pro-choice? You Should Still Oppose Abortion Clinic Anti-Protest Laws. Here’s why:

wingnutsFrom GreenIsTheNewRed

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments about a Massachusetts law that prohibits anyone from entering a 35-foot “buffer zone” around abortion clinics. The target of the law is anti-abortion protesters who protest at clinic entrances. I spoke with Kirsten Powers of the Daily Beast recently about how these types of restrictions on freedom of speech place all protesters at risk. Her great column sums up the danger: “If it’s upheld, unions and environmentalists could be next.”

If you are pro-choice, it’s tempting to support a law like this. Anti-abortion protesters have a history of violence and bloodshed against doctors and clinic workers, and protests at clinics have at times escalated to harassment and intimidation of women who are attempting to exercise their rights. I completely support the right of all women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their health care, but I’ve seen firsthand the dangers of singling out people with new legislation because of what they believe.

Here’s an excerpt:

Ironically, a law championed by liberals could end up having dire implications for many liberal causes. Will Potter is a journalist and author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, which chronicles the political, legal, and public relations strategies that threaten even acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. He told me that the Massachusetts bill, “is setting the precedent of applying this approach to the animal rights and environmental movements.”  Despite being pro-abortion rights, Potter says of the abortion clinic buffer zone, “I would oppose these kinds laws [because] it’s about restricting speech.”  He points out that, “Oregon passed a law to allow loggers to sue protestors who disrupt business using the same kind of language…it’s identical…to [the Massachusetts law].”

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Massachusetts law, it’s not hard to imagine businesses lobbying to create zones where union members are not allowed to speak, but workers for the business are.

Businesses could use the same logic used in McCullen:  the picketers are disrupting business and upsetting customers. So, government, please silence them—even though they are standing on a public sidewalk.

Potter described how liberal activists have made this mistake before.  He said, “Back in the late 1990s…Planned Parenthood was using RICO statutes against anti-abortion protestors.  A lot of civil rights people were saying this is going to come back around to us and sure enough RICO has been used against animal-rights protestors.  The [lawsuits] have failed, but it costs mountains of cash to defend against.”


  1. Lauren

    As someone who has had an abortion, I think I have a pretty accurate picture of what it’s like to walk past those pro-life protesters… It’s absolutely terrifying. I remember fearing for my personal safety as strangers spewed hateful threats and berated me. You honestly can’t understand the intensity of it unless you experience it… With that said, I’m not trying to start an arguement… I’m simply asking you to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. There’s a lot more to it than civil liberties.

    1. prisonbookscollective

      Hi Lauren,

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with those that. I personally think those people are monsters and should be stopped. However I think passing a law to do it would backfire on people struggling for freedom. The government would be much more likely to use a law like that against us than right wing extremists any day of the week.

      1. Lauren

        First, thank you for your compassion. I genuinely do appreciate it… I understand where you’re coming from. Believe me. I’m a huge advocate of civil liberties. I still feel that something really needs to be changed legally about pro-life demonstrations outside of clinics though. It would be one thing if it were a protest organized against the clinic itself. If that were the case, I could understand. From my experience, however, it was more of an act of targeted individual harassment… I’m not asking you to agree with me, but I view limiting clinic “protesting” almost the same as a restraining order… an act of personal protection… just an opinion.

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