Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 17

Bill would give police discretion to move pro-life advocates

Posted By July 17, 2014 | 1:06 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

Massachusetts could soon have a new law similar to its abortion clinic buffer zone law which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down last month.
James F. Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the bishops’ public policy office, said yesterday that he expects the House of Representatives will vote on Senate Bill 2281 this week or next. Those interested can check MCC’s website, www.macatholic.org, for updates and any action alerts.
Wednesday the senate approved on a voice vote the bill filed Monday by Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester.
The bill Sen. Chandler filed says: “A law enforcement official may order the immediate dispersal of a gathering that substantially impedes access to or departure from an entrance or a driveway to a reproductive health care facility.”
Anyone ordered to disperse would have to stay at least 25 feet away from that facility for eight hours or until the facility closed for business, the bill says.
It forbids people from using or threatening force to intimidate or injure someone attempting to access or depart from such a facility or impeding a person’s or vehicle’s access to it.
Those who fail to comply with these requirements could be fined, imprisoned or both.
An aggrieved person or entity or the attorney general or both could also bring a civil suit against them, the legal expenses of which they could be made to pay.
Local Catholics involved with the buffer zone case were among those testifying against the bill earlier Wednesday at a joint Judiciary Committee hearing.
“It’s something that they completely rushed through,” Mr. Driscoll said of legislators’ action on the bill. It “seems like a done deal” because Gov. Deval Patrick, Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley and House and Senate leaders are “marching to the same tune,” he said. He said he thinks such legislation should be analyzed and could be handled better in the next legislative session.
The week after the U.S. Supreme court declared the 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics unconstitutional, Gov. Patrick and Atty. Gen. Coakley spoke of reacting by introducing new legislation.
Roderick Murphy, who went to the buffer zone oral argument at the Supreme Court, said he and three other people from the Worcester area testified as a panel Wednesday against S. 2281.
A member of St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, he is director of Problem Pregnancy in Worcester, which offers women alternatives to abortion. Sidewalk counselors standing outside the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic across the street direct interested women to Problem Pregnancy for help.
One of those sidewalk counselors, Nancy Clark of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester, was a plaintiff in the buffer zone case. Mr. Murphy said she and Lee Crowley, who prays outside the abortion clinic and sometimes does sidewalk counseling, testified with him on the panel Wednesday.
So did a woman he simply called Faith, who he said decided not to get an abortion at Planned Parenthood after talking with a sidewalk counselor and volunteers at Problem Pregnancy, whom she said were very nice.
Mrs. Clark said Faith was so thankful someone was outside the clinic to talk to her.
“We’re not out there to harass anybody,” she said. “We’re offering options.”
Since the buffer zone has been lifted she’s had more success taking with people headed for the clinic and giving them information, she said. She said she didn’t know if any unborn babies’ lives were saved because of it. But now she can be seen and doesn’t have to yell to be heard and clinic clients do not have to cross a street to talk to her.
“I am not blocking anyone and I have no intention of blocking anyone,” she said. “There is no way they think their patients are in danger. We have to be affecting Planned Parenthood’s business.”
Mr. Murphy said Mrs. Clark handed a Judiciary Committee member a picture of Faith’s child, now 4, and committee members smiled when they saw the picture and passed it from one to another.
He said Faith was “the star” with her testimony and that Mrs. Clark spoke of the bill lacking clarity about what could be grounds for arrest and the potential danger to sidewalk counselors if only one at a time is allowed near a clinic.
“I’ve never had a harassment called on me,” Mrs. Clark told The Catholic Free Press. “I’ve had men swear at me.” She said a couple men have come up to her face like they were going to hit her, and the women they were accompanying into the clinic didn’t say anything, which made her wonder if the men were pushing abortion on them.
If a mother like her with nine children and four grandchildren is arrested for offering help to such women, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision, “how is that going to look on Massachusetts?” she asked.
“The Supreme Court of the United States has already spoken on this,” said Allison LeDoux, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Respect Life Office. “If there should be any disturbance of the peace there are already laws that would deal with this. This current legislation that they’re trying to rush through, putting in a new buffer zone, is unnecessary and uncalled for.”