Barely a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s previous statute as unconstitutional, Massachusetts lawmakers Wednesday cheered passage of a new abortion clinic “buffer zone” law Wednesday, while pro-life supporters warned that the law was worse than the old one.
The new law permits police to order anyone who “impedes” people going in or out of an abortion clinic to withdraw to a point 25 feet away from the clinic until it closes for the day. People who resist can be assessed a $500 fine and jail time; people who commit more serious crimes outside the clinics face steeper fines — up to $50,000 — and longer jail sentences.
Democratic Gov. Deval L. Patrick said he was “incredibly proud” to sign the legislation, saying it ensures that women seeking to visit the clinics “can do so safely and without harassment,” and clinic employees can “arrive at work each day without fear of harm.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, stood with Mr. Patrick, as well as leaders of the Massachusetts legislature and pro-choice supporters.
Massachusetts and other states were forced to hastily rewrite their clinic buffer statutes after the high court’s ruling in July.
The new law goes into effect immediately.
Massachusetts Citizens for Life, which rejoiced in June when the Supreme Court struck down the old law with set up 35-foot buffer zones, said the new law was “worse than the one just overturned.”
“If I ‘detain’ a woman to give her literature, I could face big fines and jail,” President Anne Fox wrote on the pro-life group’s blog.
“The new law is unconstitutional not only because it is vague and overbroad, but also because it purports to grant law enforcement the power to issue a temporary restraining order — a power that may only be exercised by courts,” attorney Michael DePrimo said, according to a report by Kathryn Jean Lopez on National Review Online. Mr. DePrimo helped represent Supreme Court petitioner Eleanor McCullen, 77, who argued that Massachusetts’ old buffer zone law was so extensive that it violated her rights to freedom of speech.
Pro-choice supporters were elated with the speedy enactment of the law.
It’s “proof that the voters will not tolerate excessive threats or violence against those who seek medical care,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The law “balances the concerns raised by the Supreme Court decision and the safety of our communities,” said Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. “Sidewalk counselors” are not really counselors, she said. “They coerce and frighten women out of seeking constitutionally protected health care.”