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.”