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Cardinal O’Malley criticizes new abortion clinic law

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley on Friday criticized a new state law limiting protesters’ access to patients outside abortion clinics and appeared to embrace anticipated efforts to overturn the measure.

Governor Deval Patrick signed the legislation Wednesday, following a unanimous US Supreme Court decision in June striking down a Massachusetts law that set a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances.

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“The Supreme Court seldom is unanimous in our day,” O’Malley wrote on his blog. “[T]he fact that it was on this question gives me hope that the judiciary will once again correct what I regard as an unjust limitation on free speech in Massachusetts about a fundamental moral and human issue.”

O’Malley wrote that “the Massachusetts legislature acted with unseemly haste to establish what amounts to a new buffer zone of 25 feet.”

The new legislation gives more authority to police in dispersing protesters who block access to clinics and empowers officers to require obstructive protesters to remain 25 feet from driveways or entrances for eight hours, or until closing time.

A spokesman for state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a gubernatorial candidate who championed both the previous buffer zone law and the new legislation, outlined distinctions between them.

“This is not a new buffer zone, and this statute only impacts those who violate the law by threatening or blocking women’s constitutional right to reproductive health care,” said Brad Puffer, spokesman for Coakley, in an e-mail.

“We used the road map offered by the Supreme Court in drafting this new law and are confident that it properly focuses on protecting public safety around these facilities,” Puffer said.

Anne Fox, president of the anti-abortion group Massachusetts Citizens for Life, lauded O’Malley’s statement.

“He gives full recognition to the fact that the sidewalk counselors are there to offer hope, help, and love to those women who need them,” Fox said in an e-mail.

Fox called the new law “an egregious example of legal ambiguity and enforcement discretion” and said she is convinced this measure, too, will be overturned in court.

Related:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s blog post

Patrick signs law replacing buffer zone provision

Opinion: Buffer zone rhetoric belies facts about pro-life demonstrators

Abraham: With no buffer zone, patients pressed at Planned Parenthood

Mass. abortion clinic buffer zones ruled illegal

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
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