July 23, 2014
Contact: Alicia Johnson, Advocacy Manager, 617-515-0531
Planned Parenthood Applauds House Vote on Safe Access Bill
BOSTON—Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) applauds the House of Representative’s vote today to pass An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities on a 116-35 vote.
“I applaud the House of Representatives for recognizing the necessity of An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities. Under the leadership of Speaker DeLeo, our state representatives are making it possible for us to better protect patients and staff from harassment and intimidation at reproductive health centers,” said Marty Walz, President and CEO of PPLM. “We are fortunate to have so many women’s health champions both in the House and the Senate who are working quickly to get the Safe Access bill to Governor Patrick’s desk before the end of this year’s legislative session.”
PPLM, along with Attorney General Martha Coakley, Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, took swift action to draft the bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCullen v. Coakley to strike down An Act Relative to Public Safety, a 2007 law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone to protect the safety of patients and staff at reproductive health care centers. The bill, filed by Senator Harriette L. Chandler on July 14, takes a narrowly tailored approach to address public safety concerns while meeting the legal standards established in the Supreme Court’s opinion.
At a hearing convened on July 16 by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, testimony was given by staff and providers from PPLM health centers in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield; a PPLM patient; volunteer clinic escorts; and Walz. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Committee voted to give the bill a favorable report, which was followed by the Senate’s unanimous voice vote to pass the bill.
Ensuring Public Safety & Access. To enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to maintain public safety, the bill prohibits certain conduct outside reproductive health care facilities that threatens access and public safety. Violation of any of these provisions can result in arrest and criminal charges.
- Withdrawal Orders: The bill authorizes law enforcement officials to order the immediate withdrawal of any individual who substantially impedes access to a facility entrance or driveway. After a written withdrawal order is issued, the individual(s) who received the withdrawal order must remain at least 25 feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours. A withdrawal area must be clearly marked and the withdrawal law must be posted.
- Injury & Intimidation: The bill prohibits the use of a physical act or threat or force to intentionally injure or intimidate, or attempt to injure or intimidate, an individual attempting to access or depart from a facility.
- Clear Passage: The bill prohibits impeding a patient or staff member’s access to or departure from a facility with the intent to interfere with that person’s ability to obtain or provide services. The law also prohibits knowingly impeding an individual or vehicle’s access to or departure from a facility.
- Vehicular Safety: The bill prohibits recklessly interfering with the operation of a vehicle that attempts to enter, exit, or park at a facility.
Remedies. The bill also enhances the ability of private parties and the Attorney General to ensure compliance by filing a civil action in court.
- Civil Remedies: Where an individual violates any of the above provisions, an aggrieved person or entity, or the Attorney General, may bring a civil action in Superior Court seeking injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees. Where the Attorney General brings such an action, the court may also award civil penalties. Any violation of an injunction would constitute a criminal offense. These provisions largely mirror the civil remedies available under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.
- Massachusetts Civil Rights Act: The Attorney General already has the ability through the existing Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) to seek injunctions where an individual or group “interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, or attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion” with the exercise of a protected right (including the right to access reproductive health care). The bill amends the MCRA to allow the Attorney General to obtain compensatory damages on behalf of affected individuals and entities, recover litigation costs and fees, and seek civil penalties for the interference of constitutional rights.
An Act Relative to Public Safety was passed in 2007 after decades of harassment and intimidation of Massachusetts women seeking safe access to legal reproductive health care services including birth control, cancer screenings, and abortion. After enactment of the law, protesters continued to hold demonstrations outside the buffer zone, and in fact recent reporting on McCullen v. Coakley confirmed the protesters were able to engage in precisely the type of speech they said the law precluded.
Before An Act Relative to Public Safety passed in 2007, protesters stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the entrances of reproductive health centers; obstructed cars trying to enter health center driveways; dressed up as police officers in order to obtain patients’ and staff members’ personal identifying information; filmed and photographed patients’ and staff members’ vehicles; screamed at patients and staff members; and even touched their bodies. Since the Supreme Court struck down the buffer zone in June, harassment and intimidation outside of health centers has increased once again.
Since the Court’s decision, more than 1,500 supporters signed PPLM’s petition for a new law and more than 325 new volunteers applied to serve as clinic escorts at PPLM’s Boston health center. Several hundred people attended a rally at Boston City Hall Plaza on Tuesday, July 8 to protest the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley and show their support for safe access to health care.
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts is the largest freestanding reproductive health care provider and advocate in the Commonwealth, providing sexual and reproductive health care through nearly 50,000 patient visits per year at seven health centers. Ninety percent of PPLM services are preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, testing and treatment for STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, sexual health education and information. For 86 years, PPLM has protected and promoted sexual and reproductive health and rights through clinical services, education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.pplm.org.
July 23, 2014