On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in McCullen v. Coakley that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot "buffer zone" around the entrance to reproductive health clinics is unconstitutional. While the ruling is a resounding victory for free speech, it's also a victory for pro-life nutters who enjoy harassing women as they enter and exit these medical facilities. The decision to terminate a pregnancy can be difficult enough without being harassed by a gauntlet of anti-choicers who don’t have anything else to do but offer “counsel” to people who don’t want it.
The ironic thing is that abortions constitute just 3% of the services provided by erstwhile pro-life target Planned Parenthood. So when a woman walks into a clinic, there’s a pretty good chance she’s there to get say, a mammogram, an STD test, contraception, a pap test, or any of the other services Planned Parenthood offers to women.
That's why McCullen v. Coakley was an important case for women’s rights. In it, 77-year-old Bostonian busybody Eleanor McCullen challenged the Massachusetts law requiring that protesters at abortion clinics must position themselves at least 35 feet from the entrance. McCullen likes to hang around outside clinics and accosts women entering by saying things like, “There’s so much help available. Can we just talk for five minutes?”
Although her tactics might differ from say, those protesters who impersonate police officers demanding the contact information of those trying to enter the clinic, McCullen's behavior is still detestable because it’s none of her business.
Truth be told, as much as these “pro-lifers” say they’re protecting fetuses, in reality there is something more subtle going on. In his 1996 book, Moral Politics, George Lakoff seemingly identified a contradiction among the anti-abortion crowd, which consists largely of conservatives:
“Conservatives are largely against abortion, saying that they want to save the lives of unborn fetuses. The United States has an extremely high infant-mortality rate, largely due to the lack of adequate prenatal care for low-income mothers. Yet conservatives are not in favor of government programs providing such prenatal care and have voted to eliminate existing programs that have succeeded in lowering the infant mortality rate.”
That’s because they are not “pro-life,’ but rather hold to what Lakoff calls the “strict father” worldview. In this model, discipline is rewarded and irresponsibility is punished. Given that conservatives largely associate abortion with sexual promiscuity, they figure it’s only right that women live with the consequences of their actions. And I would add that many conservatives just plain don’t like the fact that women can decide what they can and can’t do to their bodies.
Anyone entering a medical facility of any kind should be able to do so without some holier-than-thou religious nut pestering them about the choice they’re about to make. Imagine a bunch of crazy assholes standing outside an oncology center telling entering patients, “Let me tell you how harmful chemotherapy can be.” Even if a patient were on the fence about getting chemo, a complete stranger who has time in the middle of the day to hang outside a clinic for a few hours probably isn’t the best person to offer medical advice.