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opinion | William Cotter

Buffer zone rhetoric belies facts about pro-life demonstrators

Demonstrators stood just inside the buffer zone at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston last month.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff/file

Demonstrators stood just inside the buffer zone at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston last month.

Governor Patrick and other lawmakers are feverishly working to fashion a new version of the buffer zone law. For the alleged purpose of “public safety” outside of “women’s health care” facilities.

Despite the volume and hysterical quality of claims of pro-life misbehavior, especially at Planned Parenthood since the removal of the buffer zone, a reasoned examination of some facts reveals a far different picture.

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Every day since the nullification of the buffer zone by the Supreme Court, there has been a heavy Boston police presence outside of Planned Parenthood. Yet there have been no arrests, nor threats of arrest. Are we supposed to believe that the police are negligent or complicit? In fact, there has never been an arrest in Boston of a pro-life demonstrator or counselor for committing violence.

Second, Planned Parenthood for many years has had a system of video surveillance cameras that cover all the sidewalks around its building and its front entrance. Yet the organization has never produced any footage showing pro-life violence.

The case of John Salvi, who killed two people and wounded five at Planned Parenthood clinics in Brookline in 1994, is frequently cited as justification for a buffer zone. Aside from the fact that homicide is already illegal, the absurd implication is that a line on the sidewalk would stop a determined gunman. If so, then where are the buffer zones around American schools?

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The attitude of abortion advocates regarding the buffer zone is not an anomaly. On a variety of cultural issues, conservatives are vilified as hate-mongers who are afflicted with some species of mental illness ending in “-phobia” and deserve to be marginalized. If the punitive power of the state can be enlisted for the task, so much the better. All under the guise of a social virtue, of course, such as “public safety.” (Who could oppose that?)

But the buffer zone has nothing to do with public safety. It restricts and punishes not violence but expression — a form of expression that, as the Supreme Court found, is protected by the First Amendment.

The buffer zone has nothing to do with public safety. It punishes not violence but expression.

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The September 1970 issue of California Medicine, the official journal of the California Medical Association, had an insightful editorial regarding the shaping of public attitudes about abortion. It argued: “Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected.”

Schizophrenic subterfuge is not only still with us; it is now pandemic.

More coverage:

Mass. abortion clinic buffer zones ruled illegal

Joanna Weiss: Supreme Court is naive

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

William Cotter is the president of Operation Rescue in Boston.
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