The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would prevent protestors from entering a 35-foot zone around abortion clinics. The bill would strengthen a 2000 law that created an 18-foot zone in which protestors had to remain at least six feet away from all staff and patients unless they obtained permission to move closer.
The existing measure was a compromise with the House Speaker at the time, an abortion opponent. Police say it was not easily enforceable. “It hasn’t been a real buffer zone,” Captain William Evans, assigned for nine years to the area around Planned Parenthood’s Boston clinic, said in the Boston Globe. “The law hasn’t stopped protestors from going inside the zone. All they have to do is freeze. They can’t get into people’s faces, but the patients have to go around them to get in.”
Governor Deval Patrick (D) is expected to sign the toughened bill if it passes the legislature, which appears likely. Mary Beth Heffernan, the governor’s undersecretary of public safety, told the Globe, “This would provide essential protection for patients and medical personnel outside of these clinics.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation was instrumental in initiating Madsen v. Women’s Health Center Inc., a 1994 Supreme Court case that established the legality of buffer zones around women’s health clinics. Through its National Clinic Access Project—the nation’s largest and oldest clinic defense network—the Feminist Majority Foundation continues to support and protect clinic access.