Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jan
  • 9

Residents head to Supreme Court on buffer zone

Posted By January 9, 2014 | 12:58 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

A local Catholic who had some involvement with the Massachusetts abortion clinic “buffer zone” case is looking forward to watching the U.S. Supreme Court hear the oral arguments next week.
It’s a “big deal” for the Supreme Court to take the case and a “big deal” to get seats at the argument, said Roderick P. Murphy, director of Problem Pregnancy, a pro-life center at 495 Pleasant St. in Worcester, which offers women alternatives to abortion.
Wednesday Mr. Murphy and his wife, Jean, members of Blessed John Paul II Parish, Southbridge, are to be present at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., as arguments are presented and the justices ask questions about McCullen v. Coakley.
The case challenges lower court rulings that the 2007 Massachusetts “buffer zone” or “bubble zone” law is constitutional, citing the first and 14th amendments.
The Massachusetts 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, an attorney for plaintiffs, whose practice is in Hamden, Conn.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined an “amicus,” or friend-of-the-court brief, with nearly a dozen religious organizations. The brief the USCCB joined, led by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, argues that the high court’s 2000 ruling in Hill v. Colorado, whose precedent was cited by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in upholding the Massachusetts law, was wrongly decided.
Plaintiffs are called petitioners at Supreme Court arguments, where Atty. DePrimo and two other attorneys are to be at the counsel table to assist Mark Rienzi, the attorney arguing the case.    Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is listed as respondent, and appellees are Daniel F. Conley, Joseph D. Early and Mark G. Mastroianni, in their official capacities as district attorneys for Suffolk, Worcester and  Hampden counties, respectively.
Mr. Murphy said he introduced Atty. DePrimo to two people who do sidewalk counseling outside the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts abortion clinic across from Problem Pregnancy: Nancy Clark and Mark Bashour.
Mrs. Clark and Mr. Bashour became plaintiffs, as did Cyril Shea, a retired orthopedic surgeon from the Springfield area, whom Mr. Murphy said he also introduced to Atty. DePrimo. The other plaintiffs, who do sidewalk counseling and/or pray outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Boston, are: Eleanor McCullen, lead plaintiff, who is a grandmother and a godmother to babies she helps save; Father Eric Cadin, who was a seminarian when the lawsuit began; Jean Blackburn Zarrella, a woman in her 80s, and Gregory A. Smith, who holds a crucifix outside the clinic, according to Atty. DePrimo.
A favorable Supreme Court decision could make it easier for sidewalk counselors to offer clinic clients alternatives to abortion and thereby help save babies’ lives, Mr. Murphy said.
Atty. DePrimo said the court could declare the Massachusetts law unconstitutional, impacting other states’ laws.
The Massachusetts law allows people entering abortion clinics, clinic agents (such as those escorting clients), clinic employees and people such as police officers and firefighters to enter the buffer zone, he said.
Other people may walk through the zones if their sole purpose is to get to the other side, but other activities, like waiting for a bus or taking news photos, are not permitted within the zones, he said.
Buffer zone lines encompass parts of public streets and sidewalks and, in Worcester, are marked with painted lines denoting the restricted area.
Mrs. Clark, of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester, said Atty. DePrimo offered her a ticket to sit in on the Supreme Court oral argument, but she declined.
“No money; no time,” explained the mother of nine and grandmother of three. “If we were going to have to speak, you would’ve made yourself go. You would’ve had to. Someone would’ve sponsored me.” She said she will try to listen to the proceedings online.
Mr. Bashour, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Melkite Catholic parish in Worcester, said he is not going because he is too busy.
“I’m hoping the Supreme Court will definitely rule in our favor,” he said. “I think it’d be good for the whole country, because it’s definitely an impingement on free speech.”
Atty. DePrimo said petitioners are entitled to be observers at the argument, but not to testify; all the evidence was presented at the trial in U.S. District Court for the district of Massachusetts. The District Court upheld the buffer zone law, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s decision.
Petitioners are entitled to six tickets for the Supreme Court argument, as are respondents, Atty. DePrimo said. He said petitioners’ tickets are being used by Mrs. McCullen, Father Cadin and four of the attorneys who worked on the case.
“Keep us in prayer,” Mrs. McCullen said. She is attending the oral arguments with her husband, Joseph, and Father Cadin. “Our Lord is the Supreme Judge and Jesus will be our lawyer. We’re all speaking the truth and the truth should set us free.”
“It’s exciting, because I have a chance to expound, to tell what we do,” she said of the possibility of speaking to the media.
“We care about the women … and we’re the voice of the unborn child … the poorest of the poor.”
She said the sidewalk counselors lovingly, gently, speak to women and men to offer hope, help and love. The buffer zone infringes on their opportunity to speak gently, said the member of St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College.
“One mother not approached and one baby lost is one too many,” she said.
Mrs. Clark said she told Mr. Murphy to try to get a ticket. He said other Worcester people weren’t going, and he figured someone should. So he wrote to the Marshall of the Court asking for two tickets.
The other day he got an e-mail that said two seats were reserved for him. He said he’s never been to a U.S. Supreme Court argument.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m a history buff. I’m very proud to be going to see something historic like this.”
He said they will hear the justices asking questions. That will give him some idea of what they’re thinking, though no guarantee of what their decision will be.
“All the experts say that the good guys are going to win this time,” he said.
The Pro-Life Action League is calling on all pro-life Christians to pray the Lord’s Prayer each day from Jan.7-15, for the intention that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down all of the restrictive laws that have been enacted to muzzle sidewalk counselors, according to Eric Scheidler, the League’s executive director.
Atty. DePrimo said each side has half an hour to present their argument; the total time frame is 10-11 a.m. Jan. 15. He said the earliest he imagines a decision would be announced is March, but it will probably not be until May or June.  A transcript of the oral arguments will be available the same day at
Those interested in hearing the oral arguments can do so Jan. 17 at by clicking on “Oral Arguments,” “Argument Audio” and the case name, 12-1168 McCullen v. Coakley.