High Court Ruling Sends Abortion Clinics Scrambling To Adjust

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The Supreme Court has struck down a Massachusetts law that requires a buffer zone around clinics offering abortion services. Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue offer their reactions.


Let's go now to Massachusetts where staffs at abortion clinics are scrambling to adjust their plans after that ruling. From Boston, NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The rules of the game have changed, as one abortion-rights activist put it, and protesters agree on that point. Ray Neery, who's been demonstrating outside Boston-area clinics for years, says he can do a better job now inside the 35 foot buffer zone than he could from the outside.

RAY NEERY: It forces you into a position of yelling, raising our voice, and that's not what you're trying to do. I am trying to educate people as to what goes on in that facility.

SMITH: Antiabortion groups say they'll be retraining protesters on the new rules so that they know. As Operation Rescue's Troy Newman puts it, that they no longer have to hold back.

TROY NEWMAN: We can now bust this unconstitutional bubble and we can walk straight up to the property line and convince women not to have their abortions. We just simply go back to the way things have always been.

SMITH: That's exactly what's worrying abortion-rights advocates like Marty Walz Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, who was in 2007, one of the lawmakers who pushed the buffer zone law. Walz says she's personally witnessed protesters who were quote, "harassing and intimidating" before the law passed.

MARTY WALZ: It was, to say the least, frightening.

SMITH: Walz says clinics are reworking their security plans, boosting patient escorts, for example. But she says assuring patient safety will be more challenging now.

WALZ: One tool has now been taken away. We have a narrow doorway and we know we will have protesters standing in the doorway screaming at full volume and making it very difficult for our patients and our staff to gain entrance to the health center.

SMITH: Walz says clinics will use other legal tools, for example, seeking court injunctions against protesters who are aggressive, or using other federal state and local laws that protect access to health care facilities. Advocates say they'll also explore new legislation, for example, a floating bubble around patients where protesters are barred. But protesters say existing law already makes it clear that there is a line they can't cross even if the actual 35 foot line is no longer in place.

NEWMAN: The law is already very clear on that. My rights end where your nose begins.

SMITH: Troy Newman of Operation Rescue says that still leaves plenty of room for protesters to maneuver. Ultimately, he says the scene in front of clinics may actually get quieter and calmer if protesters no longer have to shout from 35 feet away. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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