Gov. Patrick Signs Bill to Protect Patients Accessing Abortion Clinics

After a Supreme Court ruling struck down the use of 'buffer zones' to separate patients and protesters, the legislature acted swiftly in creating a new law.

Governor Deval Patrick Photo Uploaded By Medill DC on Flickr

Governor Deval Patrick Photo Uploaded By Medill DC on Flickr

A bill to put protections in place for patients visiting abortion clinics and other health facilities throughout the state was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick Wednesday.

During a meeting at the State House, Patrick signed “An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities,” one month after the Supreme Court struck down so-called “buffer zones” as unconstitutional.

The bill, passed by the House of Representatives and Senate this week, just days ahead of the end of the current legislative session, gives law enforcement agencies the power to disperse protesters from the entryways of reproductive health facilities, keeping them 25-feet away for eight hours after the order.

The bill also puts teeth into the state’s ability to prosecute individuals who break the new law by bringing the issue to court.

The crafting of the legislation was in direct response to a June Supreme Court ruling that deemed the 35-foot invisible barriers between protesters and patients entering clinics unconstitutional, since sidewalks are typically places where First Amendment rights should be protected.

The ruling made void a state law passed in 2007 meant to diffuse interactions between pro-life advocates and patients or employees going to the facilities.

Earlier this week, after the House and Senate swiftly came to a compromise on the bill, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was instrumental in crafting the new legislation with pro-choice organizations, state leaders, and health officials, applauded the bill’s passage.

“Women should be able to access reproductive health care free from intimidation and threats, and this bill is a major step toward protecting those rights and protecting public safety around these facilities. I am so thankful to the legislature for their leadership on this issue, and I look forward to the Governor signing this bill into law soon,” she said.

Anti-abortion activists who brought the case to the Supreme Court to get the ban on buffer zones said this isn’t the end of the tug-of-war fight over their right to free speech, and the new rules Patrick plans to sign into law will likely come before the courts once again.

“Sadly, the state’s leaders were willing to sacrifice millions of tax dollars in a failed attempt to defend the 2007 Buffer Zone law. It appears they are willing to spend even more defending this bill that will surely be challenged in the courts,” members of Massachusetts Citizens For Life wrote in a statement this week, after the House and Senate pushed the bill through the State House. “The fight is not over. Massachusetts Citizens For Life is leading the charge to protect the rights of the vulnerable as well as pro-life individuals’ rights to free speech.”

Legislative leaders have argued that the new bill strikes a balance that protects patients while also protecting protesters’ ability to express their opinions outside of clinic doors.