The Supreme Court Just Emboldened Anti-Choice Protesters to Harass Women Trying to Get Abortions

What Women Really Think
June 26 2014 12:15 PM

The Supreme Court Just Emboldened Anti-Choice Protesters  

Was8200392
Eleanor McCullen won the right to harass women all the way to the abortion clinic door.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Abortion clinics received a major blow on Thursday, when the Supreme Court overturned a law in Massachusetts that gave patients and clinic workers a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrance of clinics, allowing them a few seconds to get into the clinic without having to be harassed by anti-choice protesters. In a surprising unanimous decision, the court found in McCullen v. Coakley that the buffer zone is an unjustified infringement on freedom of speech and told the state of Massachusetts to find another way to keep the peace and allow women to get into abortion clinics without feeling like they have to mace a bunch of people to get free passage (my words, not theirs). 

The anti-choice strategy of choosing plaintiffs who are little old ladies and not scary protesters seems to have worked. The court was skeptical that these women presented enough of a problem to justify such a dramatic restriction of public spaces, such as sidewalks around clinics. According to SCOTUSblog, though, the decision is somewhat narrow. It doesn't strip Massachusetts of all its rights to control aggressive protesters, but instead instructs the state to come up with more tailored ways, such as court orders geared to specific clinics, to control the problem. And police officers still have the authority to keep protesters from physically blocking clinic entrances.

Advertisement

Even though the decision is moderate in its tone and continues to give states authority to find other ways to protect women trying to get abortions, there is plenty of reason to be worried that it will embolden clinic harassers to start upping their games. One reason the areas around Massachusetts clinics are relatively peaceful is because protesters had to stand back a little. Ironically, it's that peacefulness that allowed the court to argue that the buffer zone is an overkill. As I detailed here at Slate back in January, the clinics in Massachusetts had a particularly bad history prior to the buffer zone, even compared to some red state clinics, of protesters pretending to be police officers, screaming in women's faces, and initiating physical altercations. In 1994, one protester even took it upon himself to murder a clinic worker. 

Supreme Court decisions are about more than just the law and what it does and does not allow. They also help set social expectations. While anti-choicers continue to believe that they own women's uteruses, their sense that they are also entitled to control women's movements has declined since the '90s, at the height of clinic blockades and violence. This decision may be limited legally, but could very well be taken by the anti-choice movement as "permission" to reassert themselves and their physical presence. If past is any indicator, the frustration of being up close and personal with a woman who is about to have an abortion but being unable to actually stop her can sometimes spiral out of control. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.