Massachusetts may have lost its buffer zone law thanks to a 9-0 decision by the Supreme Court, but the state, its governor, and its attorney general aren’t willing to let that loss go quietly. This week, in response to the overruled 35 foot clinic buffer, the governor has introduced a new bill to combat harassment at clinics. And, if it passes, it could put some serious teeth into new potential charges to stop clinic protesting and patient intimidation.
The bill has already been approved by the senate, and it will strengthen currently existing rules on blocking clinic access, allowing police to have more power to disperse groups impeding an entrance way and forcing protesters to stay away longer once they have been accused of blocking a patient or a vehicle.
A new bill is in the best interest of everyone at the clinics, both abortion opponents and supporters alike. Already with the buffer zone gone, there are reports of confusion and chaos on the streets as self-proclaimed counselors and clinic escorts rush to see who can discern first if a person coming by is a patient or just a neighbor or regular person walking down the sidewalk. Shouting, protesting and counter-protesting is once more turning the space in front of an abortion clinic into a scene that could intimidate a pregnant person from accessing care.
Will anti-abortion activists challenge this bill in court as well? Maybe. But if they do, they make it clear that their intention was never about “counseling” to those entering the clinic, or gently persuading them to consider all their options and ensuring they have information about both sides of the issue. Really, all they wanted then was to block the entry way and harass patients and staff, and the Supreme Court really did make the wrong call when they called them simple “counselors.”
In New York, the attorney general has been forced to release a statement reminding protesters that just because Massachusetts lost its buffer, that doesn’t mean that the state’s own various city ordinances are now stricken, too. And New Hampshire’s new bill is already heading to court.
In Alabama, Created Equal hit the streets in Birmingham, equating abortion with the civil rights battle and declaring they were on a “Freedom Ride.” Also, anti-abortion activists are accusing the city zoning board of cheating when it comes to allowing Huntsville to reopen their clinic in a new location. To learn more about the struggle in Huntsville now that the clinic has closed, and how activists are fighting back, check out my recent piece in In These Times.
An effort to overturn the Hobby Lobby court ruling and return a person’s ability to get birth control in her insurance plan out of her boss’s hands has been blocked in the senate, despite the fact that more than half of the senators voted in favor of letting the bill go up for a vote.
In September, most of the the abortion clinics in Texas will be closed unless there is a court reversal in new, medically unnecessary Ambulatory Surgical Standards. Dallas, meanwhile, will have a new clinic opening soon after, as Planned Parenthood puts a new building into the planning stages. While it’s great to see more clinics to deal with what will be the overflow of pregnant people seeking care, it would have been nice to see a new clinic in a city that will have lost all of its providers, too.
A clinic in Arizona that was hit with a random, unannounced search last year has had all of its minor issues corrected. Investigators admit that there were no real concerning problems at the clinic, but that the operations were disrupted and patients’ privacy violated in the process.
Abortion is continuing to play a bigger role heading into midterms, with Tennessee spending big on Amendment 1, which would allow the state to pass more abortion restrictions. Abortion is also expected to become a huge debate topic in Maine, where candidates for the 2nd district have radically different views on the right to access a termination.
Idaho wants a second go at their 20 week “fetal pain” ban, which the courts ruled unconstitutional, and North Carolina wants a replay on their anti-abortion license plates, which were also stricken by the courts.
Finally, in good news, a measure to stop Medicaid patients from getting abortions in Alaska is on hold as a state constitutional violation, and the ACLU is challenging Arizona’s race and gender based abortion ban because, they charge, it promotes racist stereotypes.
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