By Contributor on June 27, 2014

By Anastasia Scangas

Every Saturday morning, I escort patients into a reproductive health clinic. So I'm troubled by the Supreme Court decision overturning the buffer zone in Massachusetts that protected such women.

The Supreme Court ruled that the 35-feet buffer zone interfered with the free speech rights of a grandmother and others who said they just wanted to quietly counsel the women going into the clinic.

But that’s not what I often see. Many clinic escorts, myself included, have had to strategically place our bodies between a protester and a patient because the protester was so in her face.

Many protesters yell racist or sexist slurs or compare reproductive health care to eugenics and white supremacy, enslavement and submission. Protesters often also display signs with grotesque and shocking imagery meant to scare the patients from entering the clinic.

We’ve seen patients grabbed and blocked from their cars. And we ourselves have been pushed and shoved while trying to get a patient safely into the clinic. I've even seen a protester trespass into a clinic and yell at the women there.

The Supreme Court blithely ruled that the state of Massachusetts has other laws on the books to deal with such aggressive behavior. But by erasing the buffer zone, the court is inviting more such behavior.

This is what worries me: If protesters are willing to be this aggressive with buffer zone regulations in effect, how far are they willing to go when they are absent?

Let’s remember that violence against clinics and clinic workers is not unheard of. Fanatics have murdered doctors and other clinic employees. This fear of violence, in fact, was the driving force behind many buffer zone laws on the books today.

The harassment, intimidation and physical aggression that patients are subjected to can have serious consequences.

A patient trying to obtain an abortion may be repelled by the protesters and then miss her appointment, sending her past the term restriction for the procedure in her state. She then may have to seek care out of state or be forced to endure a dangerous pregnancy.

A patient seeking a screening for a sexually transmitted infection could become infertile because she was not able to treat it in time.

A patient with an easily treatable, precancerous condition could see it progress to a cancerous condition.

While the Supreme Court ruled that the buffer zone violated free speech, ironically, the Supreme Court itself has imposed a buffer zone greater than 35 feet around its own building, which infringes far more on political speech than any zone around a reproductive health clinic.         

We must guarantee that women have a right to access the health care they need and deserve.

At best, this Supreme Court ruling was naïve. At worst, it was disingenuous and hypocritical.

And it may make life much more difficult for women who need and deserve reproductive health care.

Anastasia Scangas sits on the board of directors for the Chicago Abortion Fund.

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Comments

In my view, the Supreme Court just doesn't have a realistic view of what is going on in the real world. This isn't a case where it's a matter of preserving free speech. As is known to everyone, even with free speech, no one can shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. I think that it's equally obvious that no one can use the guise of free speech to physically prevent access to a clinic or to intimidate people trying to go to the clinic to the point where they fear that their lives are in danger. Furthermore, what will now happen at clinics is that the police will setup an ad hoc zone that prevents protesters from physically blocking the entrances. (35 feet perhaps?) The police will not want to form a flying wedge to get every patron through the crowd and into clinics. The pro-lifers are now laughing up a storm on putting one over on the Supreme Court.
The women on the Court must have no experience visiting a women's clinic. If they had, there would at the very least, been strong dissents. It's an almost incomprehensible decision and so extremely out of touch with reality.
I wonder what would happen to the 35 feet ruling if those who are opposed to the NRA would picket in front of their gun shows and sales RIGHT AT THE FRONT DOORS. I wonder if SCOTUS would have anything to say about that given this ruling. Would they be able to reimpose it or would it be a "narrow ruling"?

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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