SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

January 21, 2014

A look at what others are saying

The following are excerpts from editorials published in other newspapers across New England:

(Last) week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments challenging a 2007 Massachusetts law that created a 35-foot, protest-free buffer zone around the entrance to facilities where abortions are performed.

Past court decisions have upheld the right to impose modest restrictions on the exercise of free speech rights for reasons of public safety, but the court under Chief Justice John Roberts has yet to hear such a case. That has people who want to safeguard the constitutional right of women to receive health care services, including abortion, without having to run a physical and emotional gantlet of protesters to do so, worried. They should be. The new court’s majority could see the balance between First Amendment rights and the right to health care services free from harassment differently.

Striking that balance isn’t easy, particularly for those who, like us, consider First Amendment rights to be first among rights. No inhibition, let alone prohibition, of speech must be permitted for any but the worthiest reasons, and it must be as minimal as possible. The Massachusetts law meets that test.

The court’s decision will be important to the Concord Feminist Health Center and similar facilities. It’s been a few years since shouting, sign-wielding demonstrators waved rubber fetuses at women entering New Hampshire clinics, but the protests, and the national campaign to outlaw abortion, haven’t ended. At times, abortion protesters and women’s rights proponents clash. A Massachusetts-style law, should New Hampshire or its communities adopt one, would apply to all. No one, whether pro or con, could remain within the buffer zone to “counsel” patients, but anyone would be free to linger and engage in conversation outside the zone.

The law is neutral as to the content of speech within the zone and, unlike unreasonable requirements designed to keep protesters far from those they seek to address, does not prevent speech. Signs can be read and voices heard inside the buffer zone, but intimidating nose-to-nose confrontations are prevented.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion

AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Comments Tracker
Roll Call
Helium debate
Helium