Fundamentalism won a victory today regarding a Massachusetts law making it a crime for anti-choice protesters to come within 35 feet of women entering so-called “abortion” clinics. The ruling will have a significant impact far beyond the abortion issue. In a unanimous ruling over the case McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts law.
Once again the court in a short-sighted ruling has endangered women and the public by striking down a law that maintains a reasonable physical buffer between anti-choice harrassers and innocent women in vulnerable and high emotional circumstances. Only 1 of 9 women entering women’s health clinics are there for an abortion procedure or counseling. The supreme court struck down the Massachusetts law, calling it a violation of the First amendment. However, in the strictest application and definition of protest and the first amendment, the court sided with harassment and verbal assault instead of petition of grievances to the government or government officials.
Read the full unedited ruling here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1168_6k47.pdf
There have been long held reasonable restrictions on appropriate and inappropriate speech. The FCC regularly enforces speech, which should fundamentally be challenged as a violation of the First amendment, since the FCC, a government entity is describing what may and may not be said with regards to public discourse. There are also laws regarding slander, inciting violence or panic, as in the yelling fire in a crowded theater example. So among private citizens there are already reasonable curbs to some forms of speech. This now removes distinction between private citizens and public officials.
While a blow for women’s rights regarding privacy and harassment by belligerent parties, it does remove constraints on activists and progressives who have been routinely pushed back from confronting politicians or protesting at events. As we have seen repeatedly presidents, congress people, events, hearings, foreign leaders and diplomats have been afforded buffers from protesters. This law would mandate and demand that protesters be afforded their first amendment right in getting as close to those officials as necessary to be heard. As necessary would be the perview of the protester, not the protestee, by the way. It would also open up their families to protest as well, since today’s ruling erases all distinction between public and private citizen.
What does that mean for you? There are provisions in the law that make certain types of intimidating speech a prosecutable offense as a type of assault. For example, if I scream hysterically or violently in your face or at your child I can be arrested and prosecuted for assault. In my extreme emotion, if spittle hits or falls on you, you could accuse me of assault. Now all of that, you and your child are now fair game for anyone wishing to “protest” against you. Anything can now be framed as a protest. Verbal assault now has been all but eliminated, excepting direct threats of violence.
In a word this ruling is an assault on public safety. For protesters of all stripes, the gloves come off. For better or worse that is the nation we now live in. Let the law of unintended consequences prevail. That is the peril of a court who considers issues in the short run rather than the long run.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com