The Freedom Rides are a powerful symbol, but we—and Stop Patriarchy, which began an “Abortion Rights Freedom Ride” on July 30—should think deeply about what they mean in conversation with the history of abortion rights.
Currently, Pennsylvania has two enacted buffer zones, in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, and a proposed bill to establish buffer zones across the state. But like the legal fate of buffer zones in the country following the McCullen decision, the bill remains “in limbo.”
The bill, known as An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, was rushed through the legislature after the state’s buffer zone law was struck down in June.
The legislation was filed in direct response to the Supreme Court’s McCullen v. Coakley decision, which found Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone law to be unconstitutional. Gov. Deval Patrick has supported the legislation from the beginning and is expected to sign it.
Called “An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities,” the bill was proposed in response to a June Supreme Court ruling that dealt a blow to buffer zone advocates.
Reading the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Massachusetts buffer zone case, you might get the idea that free speech in the form of protests and handing out literature about social and political issues is practiced without restriction in the United States. But that is not the case.
I have seen countless women reduced to tears and shaking, just for trying to access the health care to which they are constitutionally entitled. That isn’t peaceful assembly. That is harassment, hiding behind the First Amendment.
I don’t remember ever seeing the word “gentle” used to describe queer activism in the ’90s, anti-war marches in the 2000s, or the Occupy movement in 2011, even though those activists have a much more “gentle” record than anti-choice protesters do.
In striking a Massachusetts buffer zone law, the U.S. Supreme Court has dramatically reframed the debate over balancing the rights of patients and providers with the rights of abortion protesters.
According to the Roberts Court, Massachusetts had not shown that it tried to address clinic protests in a less restrictive means than enacting a fixed 35-foot buffer zone.