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“Do What We Tell You To Do, Or We Will Kill You”: The Right To Be Able To Walk Into A Clinic Must Be Protected

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Massachusetts buffer zone law violates the First Amendment; the justices were unanimous in the ruling. In case you weren’t up to speed on the case, here are the basics: Fourteen years ago, the high court upheld a Colorado law that created an 8-foot “bubble zone” around patients entering or exiting clinics. But Massachusetts’ buffer zone law prohibited demonstrators from standing within 35 feet of the facility, a length the justices seemed dubious of from the start. Walking that length — the size of a school bus — takes approximately seven seconds.

A lot can happen in those seven seconds. A lot can happen when protesters are allowed to enter clinics, physically confront patients or block doors. Massachusetts passed its law in response to aggressive and dangerous conduct from protesters stationed directly outside clinics, including an incident in 1994 where a gunman opened fire at two abortion clinics, killing two people and injuring five others. In its defense of the measure, the state argued before the justices that the buffer law is not a prohibition on speech, but a practical measure to keep access to these facilities “open and clear of all but essential foot traffic, in light of more than two decades of compromised facility access and public safety.”

Lawyers for lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen argued that the law was an infringement on her First Amendment rights. “It’s America,” she said in an interview with NPR News. “I should be able to walk and talk gently, lovingly, anywhere with anybody.” (Clinic workers and patients may not agree about the gentle and loving nature of confrontations with protestors.)

The high court’s ruling was limited, and doesn’t necessarily mean that all restrictions on protestors outside of clinics violate the First Amendment. As Ian Millhiser from the Center for American Progress noted on Twitter, the ruling “means that some buffer zones can stay, even if this one can’t.” Salon spoke with doctors and clinic escorts about what these laws can do — and can’t do — to protect access to abortion services, their safety and the safety of their patients and colleagues.

Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Boulder, Colorado.

I think that the harassment of patients is unacceptable. The antiabortion fanatics feel good by making other people feel bad. The patients who come to see me are carrying a tremendous emotional burden to start with, especially my patients who are coming there to end a desired pregnancy because of some fetal catastrophe or their own medical issues. For those women, they don’t want to be here and have an abortion; they want to have a baby. And they’re there in tremendous pain because of that. And so the antiabortion people come and harass these patients and their families, in spite of the fact that they are in tremendous pain and emotional anguish. It’s unsupportable, it’s indecent, it’s indefensible.

So the buffer zone ordinance that was passed in Boulder in 1986 was an attempt to help that. A problem with the buffer zone ordinance is that it requires an actuation, an activity by the patient. She has to object to this and she has to call the police, and she’s not always going to do that. And it does not require the antiabortion demonstrator to keep a certain long distance within a few feet. Well, that’s enough to cause tremendous anguish and pain for the patient.

I accept buffer zones as an important symbolic expression of community sentiment, which they are. Our law is totally supported by the people of Boulder. We all believe in free speech; nobody’s saying they can’t go to the city park and say what they want or stand across the street and picket. But really, I think the bubble zone should be the distance a rifle bullet can travel. Or even better, New Jersey. Make the Boulder buffer zone end somewhere in New Jersey.

I can’t use the front door of my office and I can’t drive out the front driveway with the protesters there. Because all of the doctors who have been assassinated have been assassinated by so-called protesters. All the other people have been killed in Boston and Alabama and so on have been killed by so-called peaceful protesters who “went over the edge.” This is the ultimate expression of what they’re saying. If they can’t use the coercive power of the state to get people to do what they want them to do, they will kill them! And the message from the antiabortion movement, which is the face of fascism in America, is, “Do what we tell you to do, or we will kill you.” So while I believe in its symbolic importance, the buffer zone ordinance is useless against that kind of mentality. These people do not accept basic premises of civilized society and the legal process.

Dr. Cheryl Chastine, a provider in Wichita, Kansas.

Buffer zones help providers feel that their safety is respected and protected. When I travel into my clinic, I know that I am mere feet from people who want to stop me by any means necessary. That’s very intimidating. We are lucky in that we have a gate and a private parking lot that patients can drive into; even still the patients are not able to get away.

They’re not able to prevent the protesters and picketers from approaching them and making personal contact with them. And so when patients come into my clinic, they’re very stressed about the fact that that contact was forced on them. I think that if they chose to make that contact, to seek those people out and talk to them, that would be one thing. But they come to the clinic knowing that they don’t want to speak to a picketer, and yet they have to go directly past them, and it makes them angry and upset and ashamed.

Katie Klabusich, a writer, media contributor and clinic escort in New York, New York. 

Buffer zones don’t stop the harassment, they just make it easier to get people inside.  And just because they haven’t been able to shut down the clinics in your community doesn’t mean that there isn’t a gauntlet that people have to walk to get into their doctor’s office. No matter where you live, that should horrify all of us.

Even before I was standing between patients and people from [extreme antiabortion group] Abolish Human Abortion in New Jersey, I have always seen this as a nationwide fight. Particularly if they can overturn Roe v. Wade — and they have a plan to do this — this is national.

But at the smallest level, the right to be able to walk into a clinic must be protected. There is now a buffer zone in place at the clinic where I escort patients, but before that we had a patient flee in the street — with traffic coming — paralyzed with fear because they were all screaming at her. She started to cry in the middle of the street. You can hear the protesters in the waiting room, in the counseling room. You can hear them blocks away. It’s terrifying.

And I have been targeted for this work. These protesters take images of the people entering and exiting clinics. It is aggressive. They film patients. They film escorts. They are there to be intimidating. The woman who wrote the blog post sharing my photo and name said, “This is a war.” They are using violent rhetoric. They knew anti-choice outlets would pick it up and circulate this violent rhetoric. The idea behind these threats is about “the greater good.” By sharing my name and face and the names and faces of others in this movement online, the message is, “If something happened to those people, it would be OK.”

If this isn’t the intent, then why put our names? Our faces? Our cities?  It’s an escalation. That’s the part that I feel. The visceral feeling is that it’s not OK that they target providers, but they have a history of doing that. They publish their addresses. In a sad way, we somehow almost expect that. Now they are targeting the media and activists, too. This should worry people. We should all be worried.

 

By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Abortion, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pro-Life With An Asterisk”: GOP Ignores Children Once They’re Outside The Womb

A recent road trip took me into the precincts of rural Georgia and Florida, far away from the traffic jams, boutique coffeehouses and National Public Radio signals that frame my familiar landscape. Along the way, billboards reminded me that I was outside my natural habitat: anti-abortion declarations appeared every 40 or 50 miles.

“Pregnant? Your baby’s heart is already beating!” “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. — God.” And, with a photo of an adorable smiling baby, “My heart beat 18 days from conception.”

The slogans suggest a stirring compassion for women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy and a deep-seated moral aversion to pregnancy termination. But the morality and compassion have remarkably short attention spans, losing interest in those children once they are outside the womb.

These same stretches of Georgia and Florida, like conservative landscapes all over the country that want to roll back reproductive freedoms, are thick with voters who fight the social safety net that would assist children from less-affluent homes. Head Start, Medicaid and even food stamps are unpopular with those voters.

Through more than 25 years of writing about Roe vs. Wade and the politics that it spawned, I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the huge gap between anti-abortionists’ supposed devotion to fetuses and their animosity toward poor children once they are born. (Catholic theology at least embraces a “whole-life” ethic that works against both abortion and poverty, but Catholic bishops have seemed more upset lately about contraceptives than about the poor.) While many conservative voters explain their anti-abortion views as Bible-based, their Bibles seem to have edited out Jesus’ charity toward the less fortunate.

That brain-busting cognitive dissonance is also on full display in Washington, where just last week the GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed a bill that would outlaw all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After the bill was amended to make exceptions for a woman’s health or rape — if the victim reports the assault within 48 hours — U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) withdrew his support. The exceptions made the bill too liberal for his politics.

Meanwhile, this same Republican Congress has insisted on cutting one of the nation’s premier food-assistance programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. GOP hardliners amended the farm bill wending its way through the legislative process to cut $2 billion from food stamps because, they believe, it now feeds too many people. Subsidies to big-farming operations, meanwhile, remained largely intact.

The proposed food stamp cuts are only one assault on the programs that assist less-fortunate children once they are born. Republicans have also trained their sights on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s relentless budget-cutter, wants to turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states, which almost certainly means that fewer people would be served. About half of Medicaid’s beneficiaries are children.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act, whose name implies more medical knowledge than its proponents actually have, has no chance of becoming law since it won’t pass the Senate. Its ban on abortion after 20 weeks, passed by the House along partisan lines, was merely another gratuitous provocation designed to satisfy a conservative base that never tires of attacks on women’s reproductive freedom.

Outside Washington, however, attempts to limit access to abortion are gaining ground. From Alaska to Alabama, GOP-dominated legislatures are doing everything they can think of to curtail a woman’s right to choose. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 14 states have enacted new restrictions on abortion this year.

That re-energized activism around reproductive rights slams the door on recent advice from Republican strategists who want their party to highlight issues that might draw a broader array of voters. Among other things, they have gently — or stridently, depending on the setting — advised Republican elected officials to downplay contentious social issues and focus on job creation, broad economic revival and income inequality. Clearly, those Republican lawmakers haven’t gotten the message.

Still, GOP bigwigs get furious when they are accused of conducting a war on women. But what else is it? It’s clearly not a great moral crusade to save children.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, June 22, 2013

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Empty Ritual”: Republicans Ignore Science And The Supreme Court In New Anti-Abortion Bill

Republicans have once again rolled their old war horse out of the barn for another run at the Constitution. This time the anti-abortion crowd has decided the viability of a fetus outside the womb should be twenty weeks, defying scientific evidence and the Supreme Court‘s settled judgment in repeated cases. Never mind, once again House Republicans oblige by passing the measure, this time accompanied by sly little sex jokes about masturbating male fetuses.

And then what? And then nothing. Talk about masturbation—this is an empty ritual the old bulls of the GOP have been performing for forty years, ever since Roe v. Wade. Sometimes they have even gotten a law enacted. But the story ends the same way—rejection by the Supreme Court, conservative though it is. This time there won’t be any new law, since Senate Democrats won’t allow it. Yet the juggernaut cranks up for another run.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of an anti-abortion political action group, called the House vote “historic.” Activists boast that they are winning big at the state level. Fourteen states so far this year have enacted a storm of newly restrictive laws at the state level, suggesting that the anti-abortion cause is cresting anew.

Actually, no. If you look at those fourteen states—from Alabama to Utah—they are pretty much the same states that have been doing this for decades, mostly under-populated and rural. I did a little “back of the envelope” calculation and determined that the fourteen states represent 15 percent of the US population, 47 million out of 308 million.

Many of the states are also from the Deep South. That region has lots of experience defying Supreme Court decisions—the experience of losing in the long run.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, June 19, 2013

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Safety Was Never The Intention”: Michigan Governor Signs Extreme Anti-Abortion Bill Into Law

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers. The governor signed HB 5711 into law on Friday despite widespread protests against the omnibus anti-abortion measure.

Snyder claims that HB 5711 “respects a woman’s right to choose while helping protect her health and safety.” But women’s health advocates warn the law will seriously threaten women’s access to the health services they need by imposing harsh regulations on abortion clinics and providers:

Critics of the Michigan law fear its insistence on new, standalone facilities will hurt women in rural and low-income areas as it could force some clinics to close. They say questioning women on whether an abortion is voluntary subjects them to a type of interrogation.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group that opposed the measure, said it could force many existing abortion providers in the state to either tear down their offices and rebuild from the ground up — or shutter their practices. […]

Safety was never the intention of this law. The only thing this law accomplishes is to make a difficult decision even more difficult,” said Rana Elmir, the communications director for the Michigan ACLU.

Even some state lawmakers who supported HB 5711 acknowledge the law isn’t actually intended to protect women. “This is about protecting fetuses,” one Republican legislator explained.

Michigan legislators were quick to capitalize on this year’s lame duck session to push through controversial abortion restrictions, potentially because five anti-choice state lawmakers lost their seats in November’s election. The majority of Michigan voters support legal access to abortion services.

 

By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, December 31, 2012

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Winking With A Blind Eye”: Where Are The Pro-Life Reactions To The Romney-Stericycle Story?

Yesterday, David Corn reported in Mother Jones that Mitt Romney may have played an active role Bain Capital’s $75 million investment in Stericycle, a company that disposes of medical waste from abortion clinics. According to Corn, Bain had previously claimed that Romney left the firm in February 1999 and that Romney probably had nothing to do with the deal.

Since this could potentially lose Romney some enthusiasm among social conservatives, I initially thought I would write a post about reactions to the story in the pro-life blogosphere.

Except… I couldn’t find any. Guys, I looked, but as of Tuesday afternoon, here’s where it stands:

Lila Rose’s Twitter feed? No mention as of this writing.

National Right to Life? Top headline as of July 3, 3:57 central time was “Supreme Court Decision Means Americans Must Elect Mitt Romney and a Pro-Life Congress Committed to Repealing ObamaCare.”

Susan B. Anthony List? Its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, wrote a column for National Review Online yesterday titled “Pro-Lifers Must Unite Behind Romney.” (The discussion in the comments thread did make its way around to the Stericycle story, with folks chiming in both to support and criticize Romney.)

Americans United for Life? Again, as of 4 p.m. central, their online media center made no mention of it.

LifeSiteNews, which previously reported on a Romney fundraiser at the home of a pharmaceutical executive whose company makes the morning after pill, and which published a piece in January calling Stericycle a “medical waste giant allied with the abortion industry” didn’t turn up anything when I did a search for “Romney” and “Stericycle,” and the story wasn’t in their top headlines.

Jill Stanek? Again, no mention in the top headlines and a site search turned up nothing.

World Magazine, which is currently taking a critical stance toward the National Association of Evangelicals over the latter’s acceptance of a grant from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy? Again, my site search turned up nothing.

It could be that nobody’s gotten around to writing about it yet, I guess. Or, it could be that the pro-life blogosphere isn’t thrilled to learn about Romney’s possible role in the Stericycle investment; but, particularly on the heels of the Supreme Court decision, cares most about defeating Obama. In any case, the question will be whether it has any effect on voter enthusiasm. If no likely Romney supporters hear about it, I rather imagine it won’t.

 

By: Sarah Morice-Brubaker, Religion Dispatches, July 3, 2012

July 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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