Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 24

Swift action brings new buffer zone

Posted By July 24, 2014 | 1:20 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor and William T. Clew

Wait and see whether to litigate. Continue what they’ve been doing.
These are among ways pro-life advocates spoke of responding to the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ vote Wednesday for what some are calling the “new buffer zone bill.”
By a 116-35 vote, the House passed a bill supporters said was aimed at tightening security around abortion clinics.
The bill is similar to a bill filed by Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, and passed on a voice vote by the Massachusetts Senate last week. It was filed after the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional a 2007 Massachusetts law setting a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to an abortion clinic.
The House bill now goes before both the House and Senate for a final vote. If approved it will be sent to Gov. Patrick for his signature before it becomes law.
“I’m not worried about it at all,” said Nancy Clark, a plaintiff in the case the Supreme Court just ruled on, who does sidewalk counseling outside the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Worcester. “I never hurt anybody. I don’t harass anybody.”
The House bill would allow anyone who believes he or she is victim of aggressive protesters to file civil action in Superior Court to seek injunctive relief, damages and attorney’s fees. A violation of an injunction would constitute a criminal offense. A similar provision was included in the Senate bill.
But Mrs. Clark, a member of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Worcester, said she would like to have a prayer partner with her when she does sidewalk counseling, to pray for her success in convincing women not to abort their babies and to be a witness for her, in case anyone accuses her of unacceptable conduct.
“When I have a prayer person, it’s amazing,” she said. “You definitely say the words the Holy Spirit needed that person (going for an abortion) to hear.”
A prayer partner does not do sidewalk counseling, but watches and prays for her, she said.
Both the House and Senate bills would allow police to order someone they determine is “substantially impeding access” to a clinic to stay at least 25 feet from the clinic’s entrance for up to eight hours. The bill states that police must issue the dispersal order in writing.
“Eight hours is a good night’s sleep,” Mrs. Clark said. She said if police order her to leave, she will probably do so – and return the next day.
Worcester police are present from time to time near the Planned Parenthood facility on Pleasant Street.
“People have been relatively civil over there,” said Worcester Police Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst, public information officer. “Our function is to enforce the law. It is our position to protect both sides of the argument. If anyone, regardless of their position, disturbs or breaches the peace, then we would act accordingly.”
“I consider the new buffer zone worse than the old buffer zone,” Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life said in response to the current legislation. Police and the clinic workers are  “allowed to interpret what these vague words mean.”
She interpreted the legislation as allowing for a clinic worker to tell police that a particular person was detaining someone, without police having seen how the person acted. She also questioned whether the wording could apply to a clinic counselor and patient.
“The penalties are outrageous,” she said. “It is so imprecise; anyone can accuse anyone of anything.”
Like the 35-foot buffer zone the Supreme Court struck down, the 25-foot buffer zone would go into the street, prohibiting people from being on public property, she said.
“We don’t know how it will be enforced,” she said. She said the first thing she learned about writing a law is: “Don’t write a law that does more than you know it will do.”
She said she has heard that sidewalk counselors are willing to give this legislation, if passed, a chance, before appealing it. They are reasonable people, she said.
“The lower courts in Massachusetts will never be with us,” at least not presently, she said. She said the U.S. Supreme Court usually doesn’t take cases similar to ones they have already ruled on, but might in this case, because of the “disrespect” the Massachusetts legislature is showing the high court.
She expressed MCFL’s gratitude to the 35 representatives who voted against the bill.
She said she feared other states with buffer zones would copy this legislation.
James F. Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the bishops’ public policy office, said they sent people on their contact list an alert to contact their representatives before the House bill was passed. Now they are trying to determine what to do next, he said. He said it is unfortunate that the bill was rushed through at the 11th hour.
“There’s no reason that it couldn’t have waited for the next session, like most bills,” he said. He suggested that the state should have waited to see if there was really a need for another law.
“This is unconscionable,” said Allison LeDoux, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Respect Life Office. “The Supreme Court has spoken” – in a reasonable, rare unanimous decision. To try and go against that … It’s like the state government is mocking the Supreme Court.”
Roderick P. Murphy, who attended the oral argument at the Supreme Court, said he’d like to see which Massachusetts representatives voted which way and how they could do that. The director of Problem Pregnancy in Worcester, which offers women alternatives to abortion, he called it violating the Supreme Court decision and spoke of litigating somehow.