Governor Deval Patrick today signed a bill that tightens security regulations regarding protests and demonstrations at abortion clinics in Massachusetts. The bill, titled an Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, ensures safe access for those seeking reproductive health care services and will go into effect immediately.
The bill is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the state’s “buffer zone” law, a 2007 law that banned protests within a 35-foot radius of abortion clinics. The high court unanimously shot down the law in the McCullen v. Coakley ruling last month deeming it a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
The revised legislation improves upon the annulled buffer zone law, preserving protesters’ right to free speech while still creating safeguards that protect patients and employees from physical and verbal harassment at reproductive health care facilities such as abortion clinics.
“I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm,” said Governor Patrick in a prepared statement.
Violence and harassment at reproductive health care facilities is a serious public safety concern across the country. Since 1993, eight abortion clinic workers have been murdered in the United States— two of these in Massachusetts. Seventeen attempted murders have also occurred. Since 1977, there have been 6,100 non-deadly acts of violence against abortion physicians including bombings, kidnappings, and assaults, and an additional 156,000 acts of disruption, according to pro-choice advocacy group prochoiceamerica. Such violence and harassment is often the most traumatic part of the abortion experience and may discourage women from receiving proper reproductive care, studies show.