SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 21, 2014

A look at what others are saying


The Salem News

---- — 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.

Buffer zones have passed legal muster when the restrictions are minimal, the limit on speech neutral as to content and the government’s interest — in this case the protection of public safety — legitimate. To prevent voter intimidation, for example, electioneering is prohibited within a 10-foot-wide corridor leading to the entrance to polling places. A 2007 New Hampshire law designed to protect the sanctity of funeral services bans protests within 150 feet of the funeral location during, and for one hour before or after, the services, along with noisemaking that disturbs the peace during the funeral. A federal law sponsored by then-U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, does the same for military funerals but sets an overly broad 500-foot buffer that deserves to be challenged.

The Massachusetts law regulates free speech around health care facilities in a time, place and manner that is reasonable. Should the high court agree, the New Hampshire Legislature should adopt its own version of the law.

— The Concord, N.H., Monitor

A new report should allay concerns about the environmental and ecological risks associated with coastal ocean aquaculture, especially the raising of finfish, such as salmon, in pens in near-shore waters.

Critics have argued that the concentration of wastes and unconsumed feed in such situations degrades ocean habitats and is a vector for disease and other harms that risk decimating viable wild fisheries. They also point to the danger of escaped farm-raised fish, often bred to be larger than their wild cousins, upsetting natural balances, overeating food sources and disrupting ancient genetic strains by interbreeding with wild stocks.

A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should go some way toward dispelling such concerns. It evaluated such effects as interactions with water quality, ocean habitats and marine life in view of a range of farming practices and types.

Specific types of fish farming can be accomplished with minimal or no harm to coastal ocean environments if diligent planning and safeguards are in place.

Fish, farmed or raised, provides healthy protein, and demand is great, to the point that fisheries around the world report declining stocks. Georges Bank off the New England coast is a good example. Ground fish stocks have been struggling for 30 years. Aquaculture promises to alleviate the pressure on wild stocks, as well as providing good jobs in coastal cities. Aquaculture is ripe for expansion in the Ocean State.

— The Providence, R.I., Journal