Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 31

Lawyers take no action on new buffer zone, for now

Posted By July 31, 2014 | 1:33 pm | Lead Story #3

By Tanya Connor

Attorneys for pro-lifers have decided not to do anything yet about the new buffer zone law around abortion facilities that Gov. Deval Patrick signed Wednesday. But they took issue with the law on various fronts.
“We believe the new buffer zone law is a backdoor attempt to interfere with the constitutional right of free speech in the service of women seeking abortion, whose minds are not made up, women who are looking for the hope, help and love which is Eleanor McCullen’s mantra,” and that of other sidewalk counselors, said Attorney Philip D. Moran.
Attorney Moran, who has a law office in Salem, was at the counsel table Jan. 15 when the U.S. Supreme Court heard the oral argument for McCullen v. Coakley.
Lead  plaintiff  Eleanor McCullen sued Attorney General Martha Coakley and other officials over the 2007 Massachusetts law that imposed 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics. Joining Mrs. McCullen were other sidewalk counselors, including two from Worcester, who offer women alternatives to abortion. Plaintiffs said the law limited their ability to exercise their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.
June 26 the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the 2007 law. The next week Gov. Patrick and Attorney General Coakley talked about reacting with legislation.
July 14 Sen. Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, filed a bill which called for new restrictions. The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote July 16. July 23 the House passed a similar bill 116-35.
Tuesday the House and Senate approved the final bill. Wednesday Gov. Patrick signed it. Called “An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities,” the law went into effect immediately because of its “emergency preamble.”
“I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts’ leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm,” said Gov. Patrick, according to a press release from his office.
Wednesday night the Pro-life Legal Defense Fund discussed how to respond, Attorney Moran said.
“We’re not going to do anything until we see how it’s implemented” by police, he said of what he called “a vague and over-broad law.”
None of the attorneys at the meeting could cite any other law that gives police authority to implement a temporary restraining order, he said, adding that that is usually reserved for a court.
He said it is also very unusual for the legislature to add civil and criminal penalties, which he called “draconian,” to something like this.
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts  condemned the new statute, explaining that “a single police officer can order someone found – in the sole judgment of the officer – to be ‘substantially impeding’ access to an abortion clinic, (to stay) 25 feet away from the entrance of the facility for a period of eight hours. Severe and escalating criminal and civil penalties can be imposed for blockages or non-compliance.”
The Catholic Action League characterized the measure as “a punitive, unnecessary, misdirected, and vindictive piece of legislation, intended to penalize victims of constitutional rights violations for having the determination to defend their First Amendment freedoms before the Supreme Court.”
“It’s written to be extreme,” Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life, said of the law, which she said aimed to spite the Supreme Court and take vengeance on pro-lifers.
Even if it is enforced sensibly now, at any time enforcement could become extreme, she said.
She said people at MCFL discussed what they can do.
“We can do a lot to sway public opinion,” she said. “Even judges do pay attention to public opinion.”
One way MCFL has done that is through billboards displayed near the Statehouse, Mrs. Fox said. They say: “No new buffer zones: Protect Free Speech” and “Hope, help, love: Let us care for pregnant women.”
She said she thought the billboards were effective, as they elicited positive feedback and media coverage.
“They hadn’t been up five minutes before we got a phone call complaining about them, so we know they were effective,” she added. She said there are people who think pro-lifers do not have the right to spend money for such billboards.
“They consider they are right and we are wrong and, if you are wrong, you shouldn’t be allowed to do these things,” she said. “You can do them in-house, but you shouldn’t go public with it.”
MCFL can inform legislators that if pro-lifers were “harrassing” people outside abortion clinics, as the new law’s supporters claimed, there should be pictures and videos to prove it, Mrs. Fox said.
Attorney Moran said Planned Parenthood has many cameras at its abortion clinics but has never produced pictures or videos to show any court that what they say is happening is in fact happening.
If legislators thought about the law they might see “what they passed is so out of the mainstream,” Mrs. Fox said, and suggested it could be repealed.
“If I’m a business in Massachusetts, I want to know why those businesses (abortion clinics) are getting special ‘protection’ and I’m not,” she said, making another point against the law.
She said if the law is challenged in court, MCFL would file an amicus brief.
Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle said in a press release,  “The selective targeting of one group, the immediate, unhesitating and unconditional acceptance of the assertions of one side, the draconian civil and criminal penalties, and the indecent haste with which this flawed measure was stampeded to the Governor’s desk, all smack of retaliation towards pro-life activists for McCullen v. Coakley. After the June 26th U. S. Supreme Court decision, Attorney General Martha Coakley notoriously urged abortion supporters ‘not to get mad, but to get even.’ It would seem that the General Court and His Excellency, the Governor have followed, with precision, the Attorney General’s advice.
“Overlooked in this controversy over alleged violence in front of abortion clinics, is the very real and lethal violence which these facilities were built to perpetrate on a daily basis and on an industrial scale. An estimated 9,000 unborn children are killed each year in the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston alone.”