With the Supreme Court due to decide on the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law, looks at clinic “buffer zones” and the fight for reproductive rights.
"IT’S A slaughterhouse in there! You’ll regret this all your life!"
A group of anti-abortion activists are huddled outside of Planned Parenthood. Some are praying. Others are approaching women as they enter the clinic.
"Don’t be the mother of a dead baby."
A busload of high school students from a nearby Catholic high school stand nearby, holding signs that read, “Women do regret abortion.”
Then, as if the preceding statements weren’t traumatic enough, a priest yells out at a woman entering the clinic “Happy Mother’s Day!”
This is a typical day outside an abortion clinic in 2014. As clinic escort and pro-choice activist Paul Valette describes, “Many sidewalk counselors will continue to shout at patients who have entered the private property, until they enter the building, and sometimes continue to shout at the closed doors.”
Valette has volunteered as a clinic escort since he retired from the U.S. Army in the mid-1990s. While the more aggressive era of anti-abortion tactics—like blockading clinic entrances, gluing locks and chaining themselves to doors—was largely over when he began volunteering at the Washington, D.C., area clinic nearly 20 years ago, the chaotic, intimidating and emotionally manipulative environment created by anti-abortion protesters remains the same.
He described the scene:
When patients arrive by car, [anti-abortion protesters] will often stand next to the car, making it difficult for the patient to exit the vehicle. On one occasion, a female anti-abortion protester—about 70 years old, but tall and sturdy-looking—stood in a position where it was impossible for the patient to open the door. And they routinely attempt to slide leaflets into the car through the windows.
Sometimes, protesters go even further.
"On one occasion, a patient arrived by cab. She opened the door, then leaned back away from the door, still inside the cab, to pay the drivers," Valette said. An elderly male anti-abortion protester then "entered the cab and began talking to the woman," pleading with her not to go inside for her scheduled procedure.
… In the pages of the New York Times, anti-abortion protesters like McCullen become “sidewalk counselors” who merely want to engage patients in polite conversations, and give women facing unplanned pregnancies their full range of choices.
USA Today’s Mary Ann Glendon, for example, portrayed McCullen as a compassionate victim of an outrageous attack on free speech:
Unfortunately, Massachusetts has relegated McCullen to the margins. She is now often forced to call out her compassionate and loving message from behind lines painted on the ground, like a child put in the corner for bad behavior…Moreover, the lines suggest to incoming women that McCullen and persons like her are somehow dangerous or suspicious.
In Glendon’s view, it is the faint yellow lines of a buffer zone and not anti-abortion protesters themselves who create a sense of danger outside of abortion clinics.