SCOTUS Decision Endangers Women and Healthcare Providers

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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

 

About

Eleanor Smeal is president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms. For over five decades, she has played a leading role in both national and state campaigns to win women’s rights legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment.