July 2, 2014
Contact: Tricia Wajda, 617-515-0531
Women’s Health Champions Continue to Fight for Patient Safety in Wake of Supreme Court Ruling Blocking Mass. Buffer Zone Law
BOSTON — Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts announced plans to introduce new legislation to protect patient and public safety at health centers that provide reproductive health care in the state. This follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the Commonwealth’s buffer zone law, McCullen v. Coakley, a case challenging a 2007 Massachusetts law, An Act Relative to Public Safety. In an effort to protect patient and public safety while balancing free speech rights, the law established a 35-foot zone in which no protests or demonstrations are permitted during health center operating hours.
Statement from Martha “Marty” Walz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts:
“By striking down the 2007 buffer zone law last week, the Supreme Court Justices took away an important tool to protect safe access to reproductive health care in Massachusetts. They removed a statute that worked – after decades of aggressive and harassing conduct outside of our health centers. And they put women, staff, and the public at risk. We won’t let that stand. And neither will the people of Massachusetts – already more than 300 have signed up to volunteer as clinic escorts at our health centers.
“Now that the Court has taken away this critical protection, we must find new tools to protect public safety. And we are racing against the clock as the state legislature heads in to its final days of formal session. We applaud women’s health champions for standing with us and working quickly to advance new protections to ensure that women in Massachusetts can continue to make their own health care decisions without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
States and many municipalities across the country have similar buffer zone laws but many of them operate differently from each other. One state and nine localities have ordinances like the Massachusetts one, with a fixed-distance buffer zone, that are at risk if challenged. So-called “bubble zone” laws, which allow protestors inside a buffer provided they do not approach patients closely without permission, were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hill v. Colorado.
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 the case has confirmed the plaintiffs in this case are able to engage in precisely the type of speech they say the law precludes.
Before An Act Relative to Public Safety passed in 2007, protesters stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the doorway 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.
Prior to last week’s ruling, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts twice upheld the constitutionality of An Act Relative to Public Safety, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals also twice ruled that the Massachusetts buffer zone law is constitutional.
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 02, 2014