The Yellow Line

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the Massachusetts law which allows for a 35 foot “no protest” zone around the entry of family planning services.  Somehow this zone of free passage has been twisted into a zone of lost first Amendment rights.

This is almost too laughable but instead, listening to the Justice’s comments, this may lead to another tragedy waiting to happen.

If you have ever had the opportunity to be near a family planning center or a clinic that provides abortion services, you have probably seen some of these protesters.  Some are dressed with clothes of the clergy and some conspicuously display rosary beads or a cross.  There is no doubt these individuals are sincere and wish to prevent “Constitutionally protected” abortions.

But the problem is not with these people.  The problem and the need for the 35 foot open zone is the zealots among the anti-abortionists.

These zealots do not know how to separate good taste and good manners from their advocacy.  Shouts, threats, gruesome pictures and physical intimidation emerge from what look like ordinary citizens.  These tactics are met with equal and opposite forces from family planning supporters and very soon the confrontation gets out of control.

Thirty-five feet is not excessive and in no way prevents free speech.

To be sure, the free speech is restricted from the front door of the clinics.  But how is it possible that what ever the protesters have to say cannot be said on the ground beyond the 35 feet marker?  Clinic visitors do not parachute in but walk along the sidewalks through the zone to the front door.  Plenty of time.

So what’s behind this Supreme Court visit?

The answer is, more likely, that this is a religious freedom argument masked as a “free speech” issue.  It is another case where religious views are trying to be forced upon others.

If the Massachusetts law were cast as a religious freedom cause, this court challenge would not go very far.  No one is being forced to have an abortion or learn about contraception.  Rather, it is the twisting of reality which converts an accommodation that has minimized the violence surrounding Massachusetts abortion clinics into a Thomas Payne issue.

We all know we cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater.  In Massachusetts, there are no limits on what these protest groups can say.  The limit is where and 35 feet is a reasonable limitation.


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