Supreme Court Strikes Down Massachusetts Buffer Zone From Inside Their Own Buffer Zone

Filed in National by on June 27, 2014

Before I address the consistency argument (Hello? Occupy Wall Street anyone?) let’s look at the numbers.

Incidents of Violence and Disruption Against Abortion Providers in the US and Canada:

Murder – 8
Attempted Murder – 17
Bombings – 42
Arson – 181
Attempted Bombing/Arson – 99
Invasion – 391
Vandalism – 1490
Trespassing – 2218
Butyric Acid Attack – 100
Anthrax/Bio-terrorism Threats – 663
Assault and Battery – 198
Death Threats – 426
Kidnapping – 4
Burglary – 183
Stalking – 530

So can we stop pretending that “pro-lifers” aren’t a threat to these clinics, their staff and their patients, because they are – and they have the track record to prove it.  If you haven’t watched Rachel Maddow’s recap from last night, you should.  Here it is.  Particularly chilling is the video of “pro-life” activists reenacting/celebrating the anniversary of a shooting (and killing) at an abortion clinic – complete with using a snare drum to simulate the gun fire.  Aren’t they precious.

These “pro-lifers” (use of scare quotes is deliberate, since they aren’t pro- ALL- life.) also videotape the women entering the clinic as well as their license plates.  Why would they do that if their stated purpose is simply sidewalk counseling?  I just cracked myself up.

And can we start making Supreme Court Justices go on field trips?  Because it’s obvious they have never witnessed what goes on outside of an abortion clinic.  Perhaps we can simply demand that they look in a mirror, since the buffer zone around the Supreme Court (one of the most publicly owned areas in the country) is massive.  Why does that buffer zone exist?  Why do they afford themselves and the people who work in that building protection from sidewalk counselors?  Why shouldn’t they be counseled when they arrive at work?  For that matter, why can’t we have sidewalk counselors at polling sites?  At military funerals?  Why are these petitioners/sidewalk counselors considered harassers and a threat when “pro-lifers” – who have a history of harassment and violence are not?  Consistency, please.

Yeah, we have to mandate those field trips.  If we did then perhaps Justice Alito wouldn’t have waded into Twilight FanFiction:

Consider this entirely realistic situation…a woman enters a buffer zone and heads haltingly towards the entrance. A sidewalk counselor, such as petitioners, enters the buffer zone, approaches the woman and says, “if you have doubts about an abortion, let me try to answer any questions you may have. The clinic will not give you good information.” At the same time, a clinic employee as instructed by the management, approaches the same woman and says, “come inside and we will give you honest answers to all your questions.” The sidewalk counselor and the clinic employee expressed opposing viewpoints but only the first violated the statue.

Haltingly?  Is he writing Harlequin Romances now?  Perhaps they approach “haltingly” due to the intimidation and verbal abuse about to be hurled at them.  And if he had ever stepped foot inside one of these clinics he’d know that the staff counsels every patient before the procedure and that not every women who goes in for an abortion ends up getting one.  Most do, because they flippin’ already thought this through.  But, you know, sheesh, women.  Can’t trust them to know their own minds.  Bring on the pamphlets!

Which brings us to this doozy:

These aren’t protesters, the court said. They’re sidewalk counselors. They hand out leaflets and offer “an outstretched arm.” They “seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.”

Wow. That’s a rose-colored idea of what can happen on the ground, when a woman is trying to walk into a clinic — to get routine health care, or a cancer screening, or, yes, a legal abortion. Personal, sure. Caring, perhaps. But how consensual can a conversation be when someone is standing in your way and sticking a leaflet in your face?

And what reality are we about to return to?

“This notion that somehow we were eliminating all these wonderful compassionate conversations between protesters and patients that persuaded women not to get abortions — that’s a fiction,” said former state representative Paul Demakis. In his district in 1994, John Salvi III had walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic and shot and killed receptionist Shannon Lowry. Salvi shot and killed receptionist Lee Ann Nichols in another abortion clinic that day.

“I can’t say that it [peaceful conversation] never happened,” Demakis went on. “It certainly did not happen on a regular basis. What the protesters did was — in very aggressive, even offensive ways — to interfere with and to intimidate women going into health clinics to exercise their right to choose.”

Consensual?  Did I mention the need for Supreme Court field trips?  Hell, how about we let them stay in their buffer zone and watch YouTube videos of these sidewalk counselors and their consensual conversations in action.  These “pro-lifers” aren’t there for counseling; they’re there to intimidate in the hopes that their tactics will scare women away.  But the women keep coming, don’t they?  And that’s the biggest problem facing “pro-lifers”.  They can’t stop the women. And they never will.

But let’s get back to this ruling, which is what I promised in my opening sentence.  Okay.  Fine.  Public places cannot bar protests.  May I suggest we begin with removing the Supreme Court’s buffer zone and allow sidewalk counselors?  No?  Then are we now allowed to approach customers entering a bank, restaurant, department store, etc. and counsel them on why they shouldn’t patronize these businesses?  Why weren’t Occupy Wall Street “petitioners” considered to be counseling Wall Street?  Consistency, people!  What’s even better… people can petition outside these businesses with lies.  Abortion causes breast cancer = banking here gives you herpes, or people can counsel people heading into chemotherapy treatment that cancer is god’s will, or counsel people out of having a colonoscopy, prostate exam or mammogram because… fill in the blank with whatever nonsense you want.

Basically, here’s where I end up.  If sidewalk counselors, whose main purpose is to stop patients/customers from patronizing clinics/businesses is okay… then it has to be okay across the board.  If you think the Supreme Court (and other entities) deserves a buffer zone due to their specific circumstances then why not abortion clinics?


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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (43)

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  1. Jason330 says:

    This court is straight up horrible. Thanks again for your shit-ass campaign Al Gore!

  2. Aint's Taking it Any More says:

    Good point about the buffer zone around the Supreme Court.

    I suppose the justices are much more important than the little people and therefore entitled to more of the public’s sidewalk space. Or maybe the justices simply know everything and don’t have need for an erudite sidewalk counselor.

    Where did the “sidewalk counselor” name bubble up from? Creative like rocky mountain oysters.

  3. pandora says:

    Sidewalk counselor comes from the Supreme Court. Alito uses it.

  4. cassandra_m says:

    The other thing to think about here is that this same court said that it was OK for the President and other government officials to assign protesters to out-of-sight “Free Speech Zones”. So apparently free speech is valued when it comes to harassing women, but not when you want to address the representatives of your government.

  5. pandora says:

    Yep, lots of inconsistencies here. Those “Free Speech Zones” which were located in fenced in areas far away from the event should be illegal now… right?

    It just stuns me how the SCOTUS has a buffer zone for the exact same reasons clinics had them.

  6. Geezer says:

    “It just stuns me how the SCOTUS has a buffer zone for the exact same reasons clinics had them.”

    No, they don’t. Women at clinics need a buffer zone to prevent real violence. The supremes have NEVER had to face the violence summed up in those statistics above.

    In addition to all their other shortcomings, conservatives lack courage, which is what all those other shortcomings spring from.

    Think about it: Why are conservatives obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios? Like little kids, they imagine themselves responding to the challenge with courage and conviction. But that little voice inside them tells them the truth: They don’t have the balls to do anything but cower in their basements unless they have a gun with them.

  7. Liberal Elite says:

    Naughty girls need to be punished… It’s the GOP way.

    Why not find volunteers to pick up patients and drive them to a private entrance… (even if that’s a loading dock). Is the USSC going to allow protests on private property?

  8. pandora says:

    You’re correct, Geezer. I was being too fair.

    And, LE, you’re right – it’s always been about those naughty girls. Pro-lifers could care less about babies. If they actually cared they would advocate for Head Start, SNAP, birth control, etc. But they don’t do that. This is all about shaming and punishing those “slutty” women – women who they can’t (and will never) stop from seeking abortions. That’s where they fail… and will always fail.

  9. Liberal Elite says:

    Better yet, Why doesn’t Massachusetts simply donate or sell the 35′ buffer zone to the property owner… just make it private property.

  10. Geezer says:

    The falsity of the “pro-life” position is illustrated by their obsession with criminalizing abortion rather than making pregnancy easier for women who see abortion as their best option.

    If you challenge an intelligent one on the subject — yes, there are a few — they segue into talking about teen girls having sex. In other words, yes, this is all about control of women, and the sick inability to see a woman as anything but a girl who needs constant protection and supervision — for her own good, of course.

  11. pandora says:

    Pro-lifers see all women as children. Never mind, that most of the women who have abortions already have children.

  12. puck says:

    It’s a sucky ruling, but one that can be defeated or at least mitigated with changes to the facilities.Why do women’s health facilties have to be in small structures fronting on public sidewalks?

    For example, site the services inside a medical building complex with multiple practices where you don’t know who is coming or going. Or site the facility in a property with a large private parking lot out front – Lord knows there are enough abandoned supermarkets or strip malls in red states.

    And of course, all clinic perimeters now must be videotaped 24×7 in HD with audio.

  13. pandora says:

    Many women’s health facilities are located inside multi-purpose buildings… and the other office workers/clients are harassed as well. And if you live in a city you don’t have a Kirkwood Highway/Limestone Road/Concord Pike massive parking lot situation. In a city, almost everything is on a public sidewalk.

  14. cassandra_m says:

    Most of these health facilities are operating on a shoestring, real estate that can be better defended often costs more money or is not as accessible as it could be. And it costs money to move and fit out a new medical facility.

  15. puck says:

    Most of these health facilities are operating on a shoestring

    Cassandra nails the root problem.

  16. kavips says:

    The world’s best radio station headlined at 4 that extra police were put on duty at every clinic in Massachusetts to respond to threats… I didn’t look up the number but if overtime, that amounts to $75 per single hour that cop works… $750 for a 10 hour day, 8-6…. Something in Massachusetts will not get fixed because of this…

    For others like me too lazy to look it up, can someone post the split?

  17. Unstable Isotope says:

    This ruling strikes me as terrible in many ways. Women have been speaking up a lot about the difficulties they encounter just walking down the street minding their own business. I feel like this ruling sends the message that harassment trumps the right of a woman to walk down the street.

  18. Steve Newton says:

    Serious question (because senility has kicked in and I cannot recall): what judicial parameters were imposed on the Westboro crazies at funerals?

    It would seem–at least on superficial examination–that the cases were similar.

    It would also seem, if there are no more buffer zones, that the same tactics that were employed against Westboro should be employed now, but the difference of course is that there are a lot more anti-abortion fanatics and the country is more divided on this issue.

    Still, if the issue can be reframed as a woman’s right to be free from harassment rather than a woman’s right to an abortion ….

  19. Davy says:

    This was a good piece by L. Tribe:

    @Steve Newton:

    The Westboro Baptist Church won before the Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps.

    @Unstable Isotope:

    Harassment is still illegal.

  20. Davy says:

    I almost forgot: C.J. Roberts and the majority adopted the analysis in the ACLU’s amicus brief.

  21. kavips says:

    This is the part of his argument that doesn’t make sense to me….

    “This protection does not include a right to be shielded by the state from fellow citizens hoping to peacefully convince her that she’s making the wrong choice. “

    Why? Why don’t we have that right? And secondly, since the 1st amendment only regulates the federal government, I am thinking a private security firm volunteering their services or other citizens on motorcycles swinging chains, would have just as equal right to intimidate these in-your-face protesters who think it is really cool to spend their time off yelling at people just to make them feel bad…. If someone wants to exercise their free speech by swinging a heavy chain so it comes an inch of some pathetic ugly face, (as long as there is no contact,mind you; contact is illegal), it would certainly be protected under free speech as are these muffin-topped dorky. ugly-dressers yelling at you, calling you a piece of sht.. Time and time again the Supreme Court has said free speech does not have to be in “words”….. it can be in actions…. and swinging a chain while riding on a motorcycle is certainly an “action..”

    And while on a roll, here is an idea…. use social media to send out notices like this… “Help We need a flash mob or 30,000 people to descend on anti abortionists gathered at Haines and Delaware Ave… Drop what you’re doing and show those motherfvcking pieces of sht, that they don’t, can’t, and will never speak for us… Then a week later do it to another group of protesters.. Can you imagine the stress on each of those protester’s anal sphincter muscles when confronted by 30,000 normal American people calling THEM pieces of sht for a change?

    it would be beautiful.

    Like Westboro, these punks need to taste their own medicine….

    Equal is equal I say…. 🙂

  22. puck says:

    The flash mob thing might work in a college town, but not really anywhere else. I don’t think enough people would come. But if it is possible to assemble a group of counter-protesters, I say greet them at their church door on Sunday under the new Supreme Court rules.

  23. Davy says:


    You just described common-law assault: an intentional act (other than speaking) that creates a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the victim of imminent bodily harm.

    With respect to expressive conduct, you can regulate the conduct even if you cannot regulate the expression.

    One problem with the law here was that it did not target conduct; the law prohibited all speech, whether through words or conduct, within 35 feet of clinics.

  24. Davy says:


    Your statistics do not justify the law under long-existing Supreme Court precedent.

    The government needs to show that a less restrictive law would not address the problem. The Court held that Massachusetts failed.

  25. Davy says:


    You can protest businesses, but you cannot enter their property.

    You can also protest the Supreme Court from the sidewalk closest to the Court. The Court’s buffer zone exists because the distance between the sidewalk and the building is significant. Further, the buffer zone’s constitutionality is currently being litigated.

  26. pandora says:


    I didn’t say the statistics justified the law.

    I didn’t say we couldn’t protest businesses.

  27. Davy says:


    Your argument is that society needs laws like the 35-foot buffer because pro-life protesters are always (or almost always) bullies: that “sidewalk counselors” are fiction. And you cite the statistics as proof that the Supreme Court’s understanding of the facts is incorrect and that your understanding of the facts is correct. Better characterization?

    Next, you implied that people could not protest business like pro-life protesters protest clinics:

    “But let’s get back to this ruling, which is what I promised in my opening sentence. Okay. Fine. Public places cannot bar protests. . . . [A]re we now allowed to approach customers entering a bank, restaurant, department store, etc. and counsel them on why they shouldn’t patronize these businesses? Why weren’t Occupy Wall Street “petitioners” considered to be counseling Wall Street? Consistency, people!”

    (1) You can approach customers and counsel them.

    (2) The Occupy Wall Street protesters did not counsel. In many cases, they entered the businesses or blocked ingress and egress. No doubt, pro-life protesters do the same, and when they block ingress and egress (or do worse), police should arrest them.

  28. pandora says:

    Nope. I didn’t argue that the verdict was wrong. I argued for consistency in the application of buffer zones. I also pointed out the Supremes live in a buffer zone bubble when it comes to “sidewalk counselors” and what actually happens outside these clinics.

    I said that when people protest businesses it’s treated differently. Remember the “move your money” campaign? Law enforcement shut that done pretty quick. And Occupy protesters weren’t treated as sidewalk counselors. How about the free speech fenced in areas at political events? Sidewalk counselors at polling places? Military funerals? The SCOTUS?

    My point was that exceptions have been made in the name of buffer zones. Either they’re allowed or they aren’t. Consistency, please.

  29. pandora says:

    And I even summed up where I was coming from in my closing paragraph:

    “Basically, here’s where I end up. If sidewalk counselors, whose main purpose is to stop patients/customers from patronizing clinics/businesses is okay… then it has to be okay across the board. If you think the Supreme Court (and other entities) deserves a buffer zone due to their specific circumstances then why not abortion clinics?

  30. Davy says:


    None of those places (except polling places and political events with free-speech zones) have a buffer zone like abortion clinics in Massachusetts.

    You are permitted to protest military funerals. You are permitted to protest banks. You are permitted to protest the Supreme Court. In each case, you are permitted to do so from the closest sidewalk.

    The Supreme Court’s buffer zone is the result of the sidewalk nearest to the Court being pretty far away. Thus far (there is ongoing litigation), the Courthouse’s plaza has not been deemed a sidewalk. The government, as proprietor, is permitted to exclude people from its property. Imagine if people could just walk into the Pentagon.

    The Westboro Baptist Church won before the Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision. You can protest military funerals from the nearest public sidewalk.

    The Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked traffic and entered banks: They were not arrested for protesting on a sidewalk.

    Further, you are asking for “consistency,” but the analysis is fact-sensitive. Buffer zones, includings ones around clinics, are not categorically unconstitutional under the majority’s analysis. The Court would uphold a buffer zone if a government shows that less restrictive means would not work. Massachusetts only provided evidence that alternatives were inefficient or less practical; however, per the majority, the freedom of speech may not be abridged for convenience or economy. The majority also noted that no other state has a law like Massachusetts’. The Court reasoned that that alternatives therefore must be available.

    The Court adopted the ACLU’s analysis, although the ACLU wanted the Court to remand for additional fact-finding. In other words, the ACLU (1) understood that Massachusetts had done a crummy job of defending the law and (2) asked the Court to give the State another chance. The Court declined to grant the reprieve, and Massachusetts now must start over.

  31. pandora says:

    In 2012 Congress passed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act” which states that protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and are prohibited two hours before or after a service. That looks like a buffer to me.

    As far as the rest of what you wrote… I never argued against what the Court voted on or why they voted that way. I get that.

  32. Davy says:

    The law does create a buffer zone: one that is CONSTITUTIONAL.

    ‘‘(a) PROHIBITION.—For any funeral of a member or former
    member of the Armed Forces that is not located at a cemetery
    under the control of the National Cemetery Administration or part
    of Arlington National Cemetery, it shall be unlawful for any person
    to engage in an activity during the period beginning 120 minutes
    before and ending 120 minutes after such funeral, any part of
    which activity—
    ‘‘(1)(A) takes place within the boundaries of the location
    of such funeral or takes place within 300 feet of the point
    of the intersection between—
    ‘‘(i) the boundary of the location of such funeral; and
    ‘‘(ii) a road, pathway, or other route of ingress to or
    egress from the location of such funeral; and
    ‘‘(B) includes any individual willfully making or assisting
    in the making of any noise or diversion—
    ‘‘(i) that is not part of such funeral and that disturbs
    or tends to disturb the peace or good order of such funeral;
    ‘‘(ii) with the intent of disturbing the peace or good
    order of such funeral;
    ‘‘(2)(A) is within 500 feet of the boundary of the location
    of such funeral; and
    ‘‘(B) includes any individual—
    ‘‘(i) willfully and without proper authorization
    impeding or tending to impede the access to or egress
    from such location; and
    ‘‘(ii) with the intent to impede the access to or egress
    from such location; or
    ‘‘(3) is on or near the boundary of the residence, home,
    or domicile of any surviving member of the deceased person’s
    immediate family and includes any individual willfully making
    or assisting in the making of any noise or diversion—
    ‘‘(A) that disturbs or tends to disturb the peace of
    the persons located at such location; and
    ‘‘(B) with the intent of disturbing such peace.

    There is a “disruption” requirement in the law.

  33. Davy says:

    As I have said before, the States, including Massachusetts, may still prohibit protesters from disturbing the peace and blocking ingress and egress.

  34. pandora says:

    You know, we’re not disagreeing.

  35. Geezer says:

    If this were happening to cancer patients, we wouldn’t put up with it.

  36. Aint's Taking it Any More says:


    You’re off base: its not happening to cancer patients.

  37. pandora says:

    Hence the word if

  38. Geezer says:

    My point is that this shouldn’t be protected speech. It’s harassment, not “counseling.”

  39. puck says:

    I still say the effort should be to mainstream women’s health like every other service and get it into the hospitals and medical suites and out of the rinky-dink storefronts.

  40. pandora says:

    I like that idea, puck. That said, I remember the clinic in the building on Delaware Ave.. That building housed other businesses and the protesters harassed everyone entering. I think this is one of the reasons for those rinky-dink store fronts – any building that has a clinic in it is subject to harassment and no one wants to deal with these “pro-lifers” and their nonsense. Years ago, walking down Delaware Ave. was a nightmare.

  41. pandora says:


    I’m trying to figure out what you’re saying with this comment: “You’re off base: its not happening to cancer patients.” Could you explain?

  42. Aint's Taking it Any More says:

    Explanation: too much scotch.

  43. pandora says:

    Um, okay. Because I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt and didn’t want to accuse you of saying that cancer patients seeking medical treatment were different from women seeking medical treatment.

    And blogging while drinking is dangerous – and, yes, I speak from personal experience. 🙂