In June, the Supreme Court is expected to give their decision on McCullen v. Coakley, the Massachusetts case forbidding approaching a patient seeking services from a reproductive health provider once that patient is within 35 feet of the entrance of the building. Eleanor McCullen, who is suing the state, describes herself as a “plump” grandma, a descriptor eagerly picked up by the mainstream media, and defendants and their lawyers did their best to depict themselves not as an aggressive, intimidating group but one of gentle, compassionate counselors.
It’s a facade that conservative Judge Antonin Scalia was adamant be maintained. During oral arguments, he aggressively challenged legal counsel for implying that those on the sidewalk trying to stop pregnant people from entering the building were doing anything other than trying to help patients. “I object to you calling these people protestors, which you’ve been doing here during the whole presentation,” Scalia argued. ”That is not how they present themselves. They do not say they want to make protests. They say they want to talk quietly to the women who are going into these facilities. Now how does that make them protestors?”
There’s a reason Scalia is so touchy about the depiction of those abortion opponents who hang around outside clinics. His own wife, Maureen Scalia, “is a pro-life advocate and ‘crisis pregnancy counselor’ for the anti-abortion group Nurturing Network,” according to a 2-year-old Business Insider article, and she continues to serve on the board (Update, the current page no longer has her listed but a prior version that was accessed on April 7th still showed her as a board member.).
The role of Scalia’s wife as an anti-abortion activist has been noted before, particularly when the Susan Komen Race for the Cure Planned Parenthood debacle in 2012 spread past Karen Handel and drew a fellow Nurturing Network board member into the scandal. But with an actual court case lying in the balance, and repercussions from that ruling having the potential to spread to other cities that have their own buffers in place, some abortion rights activists are wondering if Scalia’s involvement in the case is a conflict of interest.
There is some reason to wonder. After all, many of the so-called “counselors” outside of clinics are there to not only dissuade people from terminating their pregnancies, but to also convince them to go to crisis pregnancy centers like the ones Maureen Scalia works with, in order to receive services ranging from more tests, ultrasounds and counseling to offers of financial support and other goods. For clinics like those in Minnesota, and other states where legislatures give these organizations taxpayer dollars in order to remain open, there is a financial incentive to every “save” they can accomplish, either in their van on the street next to the reproductive health clinic or in their buildings that are often located within the vicinity.
On the other hand, for good or for bad, it’s unlikely that regardless of the financial arrangements involved that Justice Scalia was likely to be swayed in his voting. As the father of nine and a man that columnist Maureen Dowd once called, “so Old School, he’s Old Testament, misty over the era when military institutes did not have to accept women, when elite schools did not have to make special efforts with blacks, when a gay couple in their own bedroom could be clapped in irons, when women were packed off to Our Lady of Perpetual Abstinence Home for Unwed Mothers,” his vote was probably a given on the subject.
Even if he weren’t to weigh in on a final ruling, his vote may not even be necessary. Many legal scholars are thinking that the final decision may have a solid majority, and not the 5/4 split that seems so common with this court. In that case, a Scalia recusal wouldn’t even make the slightest difference.
But maybe that’s the most important aspect of this story — not that Scalia has a vested interest in the buffer zone coming down, but the fact that we no longer believe that our Supreme Court justices won’t just put their own far right viewpoints aside while they are on the bench. Between the tearing down of voter rights and the propping up of big money, it is becoming more clear every day that the majority of the court is more interested in the rights of businesses than the civil rights of Americans. That should be even more alarming than the activities of the people they are married to.
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