BOSTON (CBS) – A group of protesters is trying to repeal a Massachusetts law that requires them to stay 35 feet away from the doors of reproductive health centers and they’re taking their case to the Supreme Court. Protesters claim the law that they must stand outside of the “buffer zone” around the doors of Planned Parenthood centers violates their freedom of Speech. Lorraine Loewen, who protests at Planned Parenthood every Friday says, “We can’t get close to the girls. This is ridiculous here, we are probably the only group that doesn’t have freedom of speech.”
But supporters of the law say it was passed after years of violence and turmoil, and it’s needed to protect people coming to the centers from intimidation. Marty Walz of Planned Parenthood helped to pass the buffer zone law as a State Rep. “Prior to the current law we had protesters standing in our doorway every day. The protesters would stand in the doorway, shoulder to shoulder, and it would be very difficult for patients add staff to squeeze through to get in the door.” She remembers going to see what it was like, and explains, “I had one of the protesters, this big guy, literally right in front of my face screaming at me at full volume. It was frightening to be standing there having that kind of confrontation at a health center.”
Liam Lowney is also concerned about the law being repealed, and is heading to Washington DC to support Attorney General Martha Coakley’s effort to protect it. His sister Shannon was working as a receptionist at the Planned Parenthood in Boston when gunman John Salvi rushed in and opened fire. She and her co-worker were both killed. Lowney says Shannon was passionate about her work at Planned Parenthood because she believed in it’s mission. “She worked at Planned Parenthood because she believed strongly that women had a right to access and free access too affordable reproducing health care,” Lowney said. “That’s why she was there. It wasn’t just a job at 25 years old.”
He says Shannon believe people deserved access to that health care free from intimidation. “I see buffer zones as an important tool in ensuring women access to the important services that were available to them,” he says. “That was important to my sister, and so it’s important to me to continue that message.”
Three states have buffer zone laws. In other states, it’s left to municipalities to create buffer zone ordinances. Most recently, Portland, Maine passed a buffer zone ordinance. There are also buffer zone’s at polling places, as well as at the Supreme Court.