Catholic Free Press

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  • Jun
  • 27

Worcester Catholics play role in buffer zone challenge

Posted By June 27, 2013 | 4:58 pm | Lead Story #1
Nancy Clark, a wife and mother from Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester, does sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, 470 Pleasant St., Worcester, where abortions are performed. 
(CFP File Photo)
Nancy Clark, a wife and mother from Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester, does sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, 470 Pleasant St., Worcester, where abortions are performed. (CFP File Photo)

By Tanya Connor

Two Worcester sidewalk counselors are among seven plaintiffs in the “buffer zone” lawsuit the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear during its next session.
The court announced Monday that it accepted the case, which challenges lower court rulings that the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law is constitutional.
That law prohibits most people, including those offering alternatives to abortion, from going closer than 35 feet to entrances, exits and driveways of abortion facilities, said Michael J. DePrimo, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Zone lines encompass parts of streets and sidewalks.
The law exempts people entering the clinics, clinic agents (such as those escorting clients), and clinic employees, and people such as police officers and firefighters, Atty. DePrimo said.
Others may walk through the zones if their sole purpose is to get to the other side, he said. But he said other activities, like waiting for a bus or taking news photos, are not permitted.
Atty. DePrimo said he expects the Court, which starts its next session in October, to hear this case in December or January, and rule on it next spring.
“We’re extremely confident that we’re going to prevail,” he said; they believe lower courts strayed from Supreme Court
limitations on regulating free speech.
He said he thinks the Court will declare the entire buffer zone law unconstitutional, but the Massachusetts Legislature could try to craft another law that would comply with the ruling.
“I’m hoping and praying this case will change the law, because it would make a huge difference in saving babies,” said Nancy Clark, a wife and mother from Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester. She does sidewalk counseling outside Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, 470 Pleasant St., Worcester, where abortions are performed.
With a change in law, “I wouldn’t have to yell,” she said. When yelling to get clinic clients’ attention from a distance “you look like a fanatic” and “they may not hear what we are saying,” she said.
Sidewalk counselor, Mark Bashour, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Melkite Catholic parish in Worcester, said he became a plaintiff “for closer access as pro-life counselors.”
Even those not against abortion should see that the law is unconstitutional and dangerous, he said.
“It’s not a very healthy precedent,” he said. “What happens when the government doesn’t like what you’re doing with your freedom of speech? What are they going to do next if this is found constitutional?    “My big goal is one day abortion will be found unconstitutional,” he said, adding that he hopes people will realize the unborn are living human beings who should have rights like everyone else.
“This is a First Amendment right,” said lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen, of St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College. “My feeling is, I should be able to speak to whomever I want, wherever I want. I shouldn’t be curtailed by this line, because I lose people. I’m not harassing. … I’m just a grandmother trying to offer help.”
The other plaintiffs who do sidewalk counseling or pray outside the Planned Parenthood facility in Boston are Father Eric Cadin, Jean Blackburn Zarrella, and Gregory A. Smith, and the plaintiff who counsels outside the Planned Parenthood facility in Springfield is Cyril Shea, Atty. DePrimo said.
Atty. DePrimo, whose practice is in Hamden, Conn., said he previously challenged a 20-foot fixed buffer zone adopted by the city of West Palm Beach, Fla. In 2006, the federal court ruled that that was law unconstitutional.
In 2007 the Massachusetts Legislature passed the current buffer zone law, and he offered to litigate it pro-bono; he’s one of several attorneys doing so, he said.
Another is Atty. Philip D. Moran, who is to speak about the case tomorrow at the Massachusetts Citizens for Life Convention and Annual Meeting at Boston College Law School. Anne Fox, MCFL president, said Atty. Moran is a former MCFL president and board chairman.
Another past speaker for MCFL working on this case is Atty. Mark L. Rienzi, she said. Atty. DePrimo said he plans to help Atty. Rienzi prepare to argue the case before the Supreme Court, and be there with him.
Their main points are that the buffer zone law discriminates according to viewpoint, violates equal protection and third parties’ first amendment rights and is not narrowly tailored, Atty. DePrimo said.
Viewpoint discrimination refers to allowing clinic employees to support abortion within the buffer zone, while prohibiting pro-lifers from opposing it there, he said. This also violates the constitutional right to equal protection by showing favoritism to certain classes of people, he said.
He said plaintiffs also argue that the law is substantially overbroad; it violates rights of third parties not there to support or oppose abortion, but simply to use the public space for other purposes.
Plaintiffs challenge the law for vagueness, because it allows people to pass through the zone if their sole purpose is to get to another destination, but is not clear what “solely” means, he said. He said an assistant attorney general admitted that this even prohibits people from wearing clothing promoting a sports team while walking through.
Plaintiffs also argue that the regulation of free speech in this case is not narrowly tailored to the government’s interest, he said. If the government’s interest is to keep people from blocking the doors, why keep them 35 feet away?
The two other statewide buffer zone laws are in Colorado and Montana, Atty. DePrimo said. Massachusetts patterned its earlier buffer zone law, in 2000, after Colorado’s, which the Supreme Court had upheld, he said.
Colorado has an 8-foot floating buffer zone which prohibits unconsented approaches within 100 feet of a medical facility, he said.
Massachusetts’s first law prohibited unconsented approaches within a 6-foot floating buffer zone in an 18-foot fixed buffer zone, he said.
He explained it this way. Within 18 feet in all directions around abortion clinic entrances, those protesting or offering counseling or education were not allowed to go closer than six feet to another person unless that person agreed to it. But anyone could stand within the 18-foot radius provided they did not block clinic entrances. Sidewalk counselors could stand by the door waiting for those going in to approach them.
In 2007 this law was replaced by the current law, which sets a fixed 35-foot buffer zone that most people are prohibited from.