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Q&A: A guide to the new buffer bill

What would the new Massachusetts abortion clinic legislation do?

The bill pending on Beacon Hill is designed to curb obstruction and harassment outside abortion clinics. It would give police the power to force one or more protesters impeding access to a clinic to withdraw, requiring them to remain at least 25 feet from the facility for up to eight hours. The bill would also give the attorney general authority to seek fines and compensatory damages from unlawful protesters.

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What prompted the legislation?

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the state’s previous “buffer zone” law regulating protesters outside clinics.

What did the old law do?

Passed in 2007, it barred protesters within 35 feet of abortion clinics.

What did the court say?

In a 9-0 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, the court struck down the law, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on protesters’ free speech rights.

Will the new proposal pass constitutional muster?

Supporters, including Planned Parenthood, say the bill takes a “narrowly tailored approach to address public safety concerns while meeting the legal standards established in the Supreme Court’s opinion.” Opponents are skeptical; they also argue current state laws against harassment are sufficient.

What happens next?

After Wednesday’s vote by the Senate, the legislation goes to the House. Proponents hope to push the bill through the Legislature by the end of the session July 31. The legislation hews closely to an approach recommended by Attorney General Martha Coakley and Governor Deval Patrick, so supporters are confident the governor will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

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