The US Supreme Court has struck down the so-called ‘buffer zone’ law in Massachusetts. The law, which forbade pro-life protesters from coming within 35 feet of abortion clinics, was deemed a violation of their First Amendment rights. Which, of course, it was.
It quickly emerged, however, that the Supreme Court enjoys its own ‘buffer zone’: demonstrators may not come closer than the first step of the (public) plaza leading to it. ‘Must be nice’, remarked MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, ‘from inside its own protective buffer zone, the Supreme Court issued its majority ruling striking down the one outside abortion clinics’. She then pointed to other instances where ‘buffer zones’ are permitted, railing against the hypocrisy of this double standard. And, of course, she’s right, too.
Her inference, however, amounts to a belief that if buffer zones are to be allowed for the Supreme Court, then there should be buffer zones for all. How about – in perhaps the only country that still takes freedom of speech seriously – allowing everyone to protest wherever they like?
The word of the day is ‘safety’, which is increasingly conflated with ‘comfort’. One rather typical critic of the Supreme Court’s ruling, writing in the Chicago Tribune, laments the loss of a law ‘meant to protect women from extreme confrontation with abortion opponents’. Placing the word ‘extreme’ before the word ‘confrontation’ does not make this any less a question of free discourse as opposed to violence. The history of violent episodes outside abortion clinics has no bearing on this discussion. If a person is willing to break the law, and, say, murder an abortion doctor, why would he or she be held back by a buffer zone? Sneaking the word ‘safety’ into this discussion, and attempting to smear all pro-lifers with an air of mob violence, is disingenuous and cowardly.
However crazy, backward or intimidating one may find pro-lifers, it’s their sidewalk, too, and disliking their message cannot enable you to reduce them to second-class citizens. To pro-lifers, whatever the rest of us think, abortion is murder. They should be allowed to express their views, in the public location of their choosing. And so should everyone else, whether it’s outside an abortion clinic, or on the steps of the Supreme Court.