Buffer zone ruling sparks varying responses at abortion clinics

Women seeking abortions have long been worried by the threat of violence, said Dr. Laurent Delli-Bovi, who owns Women’s Health Services in Brookline.

And now that abortion clinics can no longer shield patients from protesters with a 35-foot buffer, she said, already-vulnerable people will further lose a sense of security.

“Their dialogue is so inflammatory, it does incite people to do crazy things,” she said of protesters. “It’s disingenuous of those people to say they don’t advocate violence.”


With the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that the Massachusetts buffer zone infringes upon the First Amendment, patients will have to endure heightened harassment, Delli-Bovi said.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“It doesn’t seem to me that First Amendment rights include being able to force someone into a conversation with you that they don’t want to have. ... With the buffer zone, there was never anything preventing them from going and having a conversation if they wanted to,” she said. “It’s a sad, bad decision.”

Delli-Bovi’s clinic, which offers abortions, likely won’t see much change, she said. Its private parking lot already protects patients from most protest activity. Patients must be buzzed in, and a security guard stands at the door. These are precautions abortion clinics must take, she said, in light of the two people killed at two other Brookline abortion clinics in 1994 — as well as other murders, arsons, robberies and acts of aggression toward women seeking abortions in recent years across the nation, she said.

Delli-Bovi said she had worked with one of the victims of the 1994 shooting, a receptionist who was killed at the now-closed Pre-Term Health Services.

“That was devastating, and particularly an eye-opener for people in Massachusetts,” she said. “People think that can’t happen here, and it did.”

DISCUSS: What do you think of the ruling?


No protesters were visible on the street outside the clinic late Thursday afternoon.

Earlier Thursday, on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, one protester held a sign outside the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts clinic.

He stood behind the thick yellow line painted on the ground that marked the buffer zone around the clinic, despite hearing of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He wanted to read it himself before encroaching on the space, said Ray Neary, a retired educator who lives in Medfield.

His sign read: “When they tell you that abortion is a matter just between a woman and her doctor, they’re forgetting someone.” When women entered the building, he said calmly, “Give life a chance. Every child deserves a birth — day.”

He comes to the center every few weeks, he said, and he has been supporting the anti-abortion movement since Roe v. Wade. The ruling does not come as a surprise, he said, and it will help him continue his mission to educate people.


“They try to cast us as different than who we really are,” he said. “We are peaceful. I’m an educator.”

He said about 20 people protest at the Boston clinic on Saturdays, the busiest day for such activity.

The barrier made it seem like protesters were oppressing people, he said. Now, he is looking forward to standing right under the Planned Parenthood sign next to the front door of the building.

Jaime Dasque, 36, lives near the clinic. She often hears protesters chanting and singing, she said.

“They’re here all the time, these old men who have nothing better to do than come out here and bully women all day,” she said. “It’s just disgusting what they do.”

She said the buffer zone still allowed protesters their First Amendment rights.

“There’s sufficient sidewalk space. They’re not missing opportunities to harass people,” she said. “What exactly is this doing to ruin their right to free speech?”

The protesters intimidate women, she said.

“They make something that is already an emotional and horrific thing that is hard to choose to do, even harder,” she said.

More coverage:

Joanna Weiss: Supreme Court is naive

Justices question Mass. abortion clinic buffer zones

Jeff Jacoby: Buffering out the right to hear

Renée Loth: A zone that should be left alone

Yvonne Abraham: Still speaking up for his sister

Audio: Supreme Court arguments on abortion buffer zone

Archive | 1995: Clinic shooting suspect John Salvi captured

Discuss: What do you think of the ruling?

Claire McNeill can be reached at and on Twitter @clairemcneill.