The recent Supreme Court ruling striking down a Massachusetts “buffer zone” law was a banner day for pro-life activists — especially Molly Jesse, who lives in nearby Burlington, Vermont.
As a result of the June 26 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, Burlington city officials stopped enforcing their 35-foot buffer zone law and dropped their case against Ms. Jesse for leaving a car with pro-life signage in a handicapped parking space inside the buffer zone.
“I was thrilled beyond words. Everybody was,” said Ms. Jesse, who uses a cane to walk. “God works. God is in control.”
Pro-life activists elsewhere are cheering a decision in Madison, Wisconsin, to suspend a law that creates massive buffer zones in the city, while in Massachusetts, people like Eleanor McCullen are again drawing closer to the abortion clinics.
“I can help with housing, medical — we work with St. Elizabeth’s, just down the road, and everything is free,” Ms. McCullen, 77, told two women approaching a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, according to the Los Angeles Times. Unlike previous years, Ms. McCullen ignored the painted line on the sidewalk 35 feet outside the clinic, since it has been declared in violation of her constitutional rights.
In Massachusetts, and in cities like Madison and Burlington, lawmakers are gearing up to pass new laws that safeguard the constitutional rights of pro-life citizens as well as people who work or use abortion clinics. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he expects to have a bill on his desk by the end of July.
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Pro-choice leaders denounced the Supreme Court ruling, saying ordinary laws against assault and battery and blocking doorways are not enough to keep protesters at bay, and it’s not only “kindly grandmothers” who are approaching their patients and doors.
The Supreme Court’s ruling “shows a troubling level of disregard” for women, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said after the ruling. Women should be able to seek legal medical services, including abortions, “without running a gauntlet of harassing and threatening protesters,” she said.
Martha “Marty” Walz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said in media reports that she and her allies are getting assurances from police that they will enforce laws around the clinics. Also, scores of people are signing up to help escort patients to and from clinics, she said.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society in Chicago, said the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which safeguards clinics, remains fully in effect.
However, the unanimous McCullen ruling marks a “sea change” in this issue, and lawsuits are likely to be filed against both fixed and “floating” buffer zones, he said.
The Supreme Court has ruled that people have a right to engage in one-one-one advocacy and speech on public sidewalks, and also have the right to try to hand someone a leaflet or pamphlet.
“Nobody’s arms are eight feet long,” Mr. Brejcha said, which means that even the “floating,” 8-foot, no-contact-without-consent zones that move with people in a larger buffer zone are likely unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, in Burlington, City Attorney Eileen Blackwood has notified officials that the buffer zone is no longer enforceable, and the city council is expected to take up the issue July 14.
She also sent Ms. Jesse a letter saying the city was dismissing the lawsuit against her.
Ms. Jesse had lost in court in February, when Superior Court Judge Howard Kalfus ruled she had violated the buffer zone law when she and her husband parked their car in a handicapped space in the zone when it carried a “Choose Life” magnetic ribbon and a sign on a door that said, “Your baby is forever, love you.”
Burlington’s law forbids “knowingly congregating, patrolling, picketing or demonstrating” in the buffer zone, and Ms. Jesse’s car’s signage was “clearly intentional and clearly designed to convey a message,” the judge ruled, assessing her a $102.50 penalty.
After the Supreme Court issued its ruling June 26, “Burlington folded just as quickly as Massachusetts,” Ms. Jesse said Thursday, adding she expects to return next week to the Planned Parenthood clinic to resume her prayer vigils and outreach.