Yesterday, from the comfort of their own well-padded buffer zone, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that a Massachusetts buffer zone law that created a 35-foot space around abortion clinics was a violation of the first amendment. As stated in their opinion and echoed elsewhere, the Court believes that alternative measures, such as court orders, can be implemented to abate what is clearly an unsettling and often violent situation. Once again, women across the nation are being sidelined, provided with ‘alternatives’ to their own constitutional right and left to fend for themselves.
The case, McCullen v. Coakley, concerns Eleanor McCullen, an anti-choice protester whose opposition to abortions and reproductive access is observed in a more reserved manner than the rest of her community. McCullen distributes literature and is reported to calmly speak to patients entering the clinic, asking if she can speak with them or give them more information.
As reproductive rights advocates and clinic escorts know all too well, McCullen is hardly the face of the anti-choice movement. Protests often turn violent, which escorts, advocates, patients and abortion providers have long been witness too. On her show last night, Rachel Maddow detailed the often violent crimes against abortion clinics, a list that is too long and was not well regarded by the Justices in making their decision to deem buffer zones unconstitutional.
These zones were not implemented willy nilly- they do not exist to silence critics, opponents or protesters. They were enacted to protect women, abortion providers, escorts and clinic staff who are exercising their constitutional right amidst clinic violence, harassment and threats. No woman should feel unsafe making decisions about her body- nor should anyone feel so entitled that their right to free speech should toe the line between harassment and the First Amendment, which is often the case outside clinics.
In striking down the Massachusetts law, the Supreme Court has now implemented a margin of error into an ever unstable landscape upon which reproductive rights, justice and access currently stands. This is a margin we cannot afford to have. With so many states making it difficult (if not impossible) to access safe and legal abortions, one must wonder why the constitutional rights to an abortion under the fourth amendment, afforded by the Court in 1973, is being leveraged against first amendment rights of a historically violent uprising that stems from a faction of citizens unable and unwilling to imagine a world in which women make decisions for themselves. Peaceful protests are one thing- but we all know, including the Justices, that this is frequently not the case.
In my opinion, it is not the right to an abortion that opponents are fighting against- it is the idea that women cannot exist in dualities and across different corners of society. Abortions are polarized because they are primarily a procedure performed on women. If men could get pregnant, we wouldn’t have this problem. What anti-choice opponents are really angry about is that women are choosing something else- whatever that thing is- over having a child. It is less about what opponents call “murder” and more about women being afforded the right to govern their own bodies. All that other stuff- the preaching, the morality policing, the religiosity- it’s just the face of sexism and oppression.
In 1973 when Roe was decided, the Court opened the door to women being able to make more decisions- not just about their bodies- but about their future. It allowed women to not live in fear of having to obtain a back alley abortion or be turned away from hospitals when an illegal procedure went awry.
What the Justices failed to take into account when deciding McCullen was that this landscape is now making a comeback as abortion access is being restricted across the nation. They failed to adequately and honestly look at the history of violence from the anti-choice community and recognize that just like their decision with Roe, buffer zones are about the safety of women everywhere to choose without feeling like they’re doing something wrong.