Patients seeking access to reproductive health clinics in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will be able to get through the doors with less potential for harassment, thanks to a new 20-foot buffer zone aroud clinics enacted by the city council.
The buffer zone will keep anti-choice activists further away from the doors and alleys of any medical provider, giving police more ability to keep activists and patients separate.
Anti-choice activist Susan Doller opposed the buffer zone, saying that those who try to access the clinic are protected enough from their harassment.
[A]nti-abortion protester Suzanne Doller questioned the need for a buffer-zone law.
Existing trespassing laws already protect patients and staff, Doller contended “If [protesters] were trespassing, we would be summarily arrested. There are laws in place” she said. “Babies are being killed there. [Protesters] are citizens, and we should be allowed to walk on public sidewalks like anybody else does.”
Doller should know the laws well, having kept regular company with police over her harassment in front of clinics, tactics that included not just signs and “counseling” but using a megaphone to shout at patients or video cameras to record them coming and going from the clinic.
When someone with a history of multiple charges and close ties with a group that argued that Dr. George Tiller’s murderer Scott Roeder may not be allowed a “fair trial” says that there is no reason to need a buffer zone to better protect patients and staff, you can’t blame the city council for not taking her word on it.
University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.
There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.
As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roev. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.
Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.
Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damageat abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.
Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.
But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.
This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.
The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.
According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.
By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.
The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.
What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.
The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.
The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.
The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.
Ohio House Democrats introduced a bill this week that would create a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics and allow people to seek civil action against abortion protesters for harassment or intimidation.
Ohio House Democrats introduced a bill this week that would create a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics and protect abortion providers and patients from harassment.
Under HB 408, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland and Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, it would be easier for abortion clinic doctors, employees, and patients to seek civil action against abortion protesters for harassment or intimidation.
“No one should have to endure abuse and harassment for seeking legal medical care,” Howse said in a statement. “Recent events have shaken some women in Ohio, but we are here today to assure women that we will do everything in our power to protect their right to access quality, comprehensive healthcare services. Healthcare choices can be difficult enough without undue harassment, intimidation and threats of violence. It is time this legislature stands up for women.”
Though some critics of the bill say that it’s unconstitutional, pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law, the bill’s sponsors say that its language was modeled after a New York law that was unaffected by the decision. HB 408 would create a buffer zone prohibiting anyone from approaching someone within that area who is entering the clinic.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
The bill’s supporters say that they know it has little chance of passing Ohio’s GOP-controlled house, but they hope the proposal gets people talking about violence and intimidation directed at abortion providers, along with the Ohio Republican Party’s anti-choice legislative agenda.
Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio state legislature have pushed a staunch anti-choice agenda in recent years. Kasich signed a two-year budget bill in 2013 that included, among other measures, medically unnecessary licensing regulations for abortion clinics in the state. It resulted in the closure of half of Ohio’s outpatient abortion clinics. The previous year, Kasich had appointed Michael L. Gonidakis, president of the anti-choice organization Ohio Right to Life, to the State Medical Board.
Ohio’s house last month voted in favor of a bill to pull public funding from Planned Parenthood, which the organization says it uses for its Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program that aims to prevent infant mortality.
The introduction of HB 408 comes after a nationwide rash of clinic violence and anti-abortion rhetoric in the wake of a series of surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos made by the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress, which has worked closely with GOP legislators in attacking funding for Planned Parenthood.
At Wednesday’s press conference regarding the bill, Democratic lawmakers said that Kasich, the state’s Republican legislators, and Ohio Right to Life have made inflammatory and inaccurate statements that suggest Planned Parenthood centers engage in criminal activity.
Many abortion rights advocates have called on the Department of Justice to instruct the FBI to investigate clinic violence, like the recent shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, as acts of domestic terrorism.
“Threatening the lives of those who provide health care to people who seek it is quite simply terrorism,” Lepore-Hagan said at Wednesday’s press conference. “No rationale or reason can justify it. The use of violence and inflammatory rhetoric must end.”