SCOTUS Decision Endangers Women and Healthcare Providers


The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) is outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Massachusetts buffer zone law as unconstitutional.

The lives of doctors and clinic staff are being threatened as we speak. This decision emboldens more extreme violence, harassment and intimidation of women and health care providers in the name of free speech.

The Court’s decision failed to acknowledge that the Massachusetts law was enacted after the murder of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.

The Court wants to believe that these anti-abortion protestors are merely ‘sidewalk counselors’, but let us not forget that initially Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, acted as a ‘sidewalk counselor’ to gain information about vulnerabilities of the clinic; Paul Hill, who killed Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort, James Barrett, outside a Pensacola clinic was a ‘sidewalk counselor’ first. Hill was mistakenly thought to be handing them a leaflet. Instead he delivered lethal bullets.

Even with today’s outcome, we shudder to think that this decision could’ve been worse. Four Justices would have gone even further. Three—Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy—would overturn the Colorado buffer zone established by Colorado v. Hill. That ruling establishes an even narrower, 8-foot, floating buffer zone around individual patients.

“Thankfully, a majority of the Court did not overturn Hill. Citing Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, the Court also stated a preference for court-ordered injunctions around individual clinics.

But the problem with injunctions is that women and health workers must first endure harassment and intimidation. Why must harassment, intimidation and terror have to be endured before women’s constitutional rights are protected?

The Feminist Majority Foundation took Madsen to the Supreme Court. This Florida case establishing a buffer zone through an injunction was upheld by the Court in 1994 and in today’s decision.

Photo of Supreme Court by Flickr user Mark Fischer under license from Creative Commons 2.0

Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms.


  1. C Pirch says:

    What about taping the people who are harassing patients? Has any one tried to photograph them and follow them taking down their license plate numbers and posting their pictures and information online?

  2. kristine weibel says:

    Guess (Like Boggs) they never hear of Dr. Tiller. WTF were they thinking.

  3. Rulings such as striking down the buffer zone is just an example of what happens when
    you have a majority of Catholic Justices who seem to want to vote their religion instead
    of sound judgement. If a judge has to take his religious beliefs into office then perhaps that judge should not serve on the Supreme Court. In addition, at least six of the justices are right wing Republicans. It is just a way of exercising male dominance over women.

  4. Jo Oppenheimer says:

    What disturbs me is that the women justices went along. With the vote.
    This country’s war against women is increasing every day. AustIn judge declared that anti abortion “clinics” no longer have to post signs declaring that they do not provide medical care, meaning no abortions so that someone going into these places, believing it is an abortion provider, receives anti abortion information, often totally not true.
    We need to fight against this war but, frankly, I am not sure how other than taking to the the streets once again.

  5. The Supreme Court has demonstrated (at least the majority) its lack of devotion to genuine justice. In this vote, it has served a one-sided political agenda, just as it did when Al Gore “lost” his bid for presidential election. I heartily applaud the justices who voted with the minority on the issue of the safe “buffer zone” for women’s clinics–and remember, these clinics care for the whole health of the women they serve–they do far more than abortions.

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