The Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone Ruling

Victoria Wu asks:

In light of the two devastating decisions in the Supreme Court in the last week on abortion and contraception, how are you planning to respond in order to preserve women’s rights in Massachusetts?

Thank you for asking, Victoria.

We are absolutely committed to protecting the privacy of women seeking health care. The Supreme Court’s buffer zone ruling creates some very practical challenges for women’s health clinics, particularly the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston where parking is limited and many women have to approach the clinic on foot along public sidewalks. All involved state and local officials are committed to working with the leadership of Planned Parenthood to assure the safety of their patients.

The initial response will involve a combination of clinic actions and police actions at the site. People are still thinking about what additional legal tools the police may want to have in hand to protect women. Many conversations are ongoing and I’m personally committed to helping move forward necessary legislative action when those tools are identified.

I’m less clear what the impact of the contraception ruling will be in Massachusetts, but certainly committed to making sure that women have access to contraception.

Your thoughts are very welcome here!

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

3 replies on “The Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone Ruling”

  1. What I don’t understand is why this buffer zone was considered a problem…as I have experienced it we keep buffer zones around polling places, ie no one can hold a sign or talk politics to people at polling locations closer than 50 feet or is it more? There are even police enforcing this…does this mean if someone challenged that, the Supreme court would say that is also a bogus buffer zone rule?

  2. I looked it up it’s 150 feet…why is this okay to limit political discussions in public, but it is not okay to limit talking to people about their medical decisions? I know this is national law now thanks to the Supreme Court and you can’t do anything about that…but it’s really bewildering and annoying. We need more women on the Supreme Court obviously!

  3. Good question, Colleen. The polling place example was advanced to the court by the Commonwealth’s attorneys. Other Supreme Court cases have upheld these limits around polling places and the court had to explain around those cases, saying:

    [R]espondents’ reliance on our deci­sion in Burson v. Freeman is misplaced. There, we upheld a state statute that established 100-foot buffer zones outside polling places on election day within which no one could display or distribute campaign materials or solicit votes. 504 U. S., at 193–194. We approved the buffer zones as a valid prophylactic measure, noting that existing “[i]ntimidation and interference laws fall short of serving a State’s compelling interests because they ‘deal with only the most blatant and specific attempts’ to impede elec­tions.” Id., at 206–207 (quoting Buckley v. Valeo , 424 U. S. 1, 28 (1976) ( per curiam)). Such laws were insufficient because “[v]oter intimidation and election fraud are . . . difficult to detect.” Burson, 504 U. S., at 208. Obstruction of abortion clinics and harassment of patients, by contrast, are anything but subtle.

    We also noted in Burson that under state law, “law enforcement officers generally are barred from the vicinity of the polls to avoid any appearance of coercion in the electoral process,” with the result that “many acts of inter­ference would go undetected.” Id., at 207. Not so here. Again, the police maintain a significant presence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics.

    The Supreme Court certainly misapprehended how polling places work in Massachusetts — there are usually police officers in every polling place for the exactly the same reason they appear at Planned Parenthood clinics: To enforce the law, including the buffer zone.

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