Earlier this week the Supreme Court unanimously — yes, unanimously — ruled that a Massachusetts law prohibiting discussions with, and handing out leaflets to people entering or exiting abortion clinics within 35 feet, even if public property encroaches closer than that, as unconstitutional. For example, if a a public sidewalk abuts the facility’s front entrance, the law still required a 35 foot buffer zone. Opponents of the restriction, and ultimately the Court, saw this as an issue of free speech. Creating areas within public spaces where one could not speak freely is unconstitutional.
The current law reads:
No person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius of 35 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit or driveway of a reproductive healthcare facility or within the area within a rectangle created by extending the outside boundaries of any entrance, exit or driveway of a reproductive health care facility in straight lines to the point where such lines intersect the sideline of the street in front of such entrance, exit or driveway.
The court essentially ruled that the First Amendment does not allow the government to shield people from ideas solely because of the content of the message while on public property. It is a foundational principle that free citizens be able to freely exchange ideas on public property without be interfered with by the government, even if some leeway has been granted to the government in certain circumstances to limit speech.
It might surprise some readers, but I have mixed feelings about this decision, which I do believe is the correct one. Let me just bullet point some thoughts on this kind of issue.
- I don’t think people should have to weave their way through a group of people to enter private businesses.
- Abortion is morally abhorrent, and every attempt to persuade a mother from taking the life of their child should be made.
- I think much of the methods of employed by anti-abortion protesters aren’t the most effective at changing minds. Sure, a band of protesters holding graphic signs might cause some to turn away, but it might be because they’ll just find somewhere else to go.
- I’ve heard what some of these kinds of protesters say to mothers. The one that always stands out in my memory was the question, “are you going in there to kill your baby today?” While a perfectly valid — and haunting — question, it treads on the fine line that is the difference between free speech and harassment.
- Protesty demonstrations don’t foster an open and possibly fruitful discussion which might lead to actual persuasion of your position.
- My concern is that this decision will lead to some cases of harassment. And it will definitely lead to false accusations of harassment.
- However, a win is a win. If this decision deters abortion, I’ll take it.
How do you feel about this decision? Is it the correct decision? What are the pros and cons? What could go wrong?