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Planned Parenthood official leads effort for new abortion clinic laws

To Walz, 53, one of a woman’s most basic rights is the ability to choose whether and when to have children.
To Walz, 53, one of a woman’s most basic rights is the ability to choose whether and when to have children.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Women’s rights issues have been part of the air Martha “Marty” Walz has breathed her entire life.

She grew up in Rochester, N.Y., which was home to 19th-century suffragist Susan B. Anthony and about an hour from Seneca Falls, home to Anthony’s friend and fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

“Having grown up in that environment, I was very aware of the important role those two women played in the fight for women’s freedom and equality,” Walz said in an interview. “I often look back on it and think, what was the influence of growing up in . . . an environment where the city and the community is enormously proud of the role played by these two women?”

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To Walz, 53, one of a woman’s most basic rights is the ability to choose whether and when to have children. She has fought for that cause for a year and a half as chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and before that as a state representative from 2005 to 2013, a role in which she championed a 2007 law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortions.

And since the US Supreme Court decision last month striking down that law, Walz has become one of the most visible advocates for a new bill that would prohibit physically blocking access to a clinic or attempting to intimidate patients or staff, though it would not create another buffer zone.

The bill, which passed the state Senate this week, would authorize police to disperse protesters blocking access to clinics and to require them to remain at least 25 feet away for up to eight hours, and it would empower the attorney general to seek fines and compensatory damages against protesters who break the law.

Walz helped draft the bill, filed Monday by state Senator Harriette L. Chandler with the support of the governor, attorney general, and leaders of both the House and the Senate.

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Walz talked one-on-one with fellow legislators to garner votes for the buffer-zone bill, she said, and she plans to do the same to get the new bill passed before the legislative session closes at the end of July.

“I don’t take anybody’s vote for granted,” she said. “We will be asking each legislator, one legislator at a time, for votes.”

She won’t be the only voice lawmakers will hear. Anne C. Fox, president of the antiabortion group Massachusetts Citizens for Life, thinks that in her fervor for protecting access, Walz pushed for a bill that goes too far and will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny, creating a second embarrassment for Massachusetts lawmakers.

“I don’t have a problem with somebody who’s a zealot,” Fox said, “but I have a problem with somebody who puts their interests above, say, the interests and reputation of the state Legislature.”

At a women’s rights rally last week on Boston’s City Hall Plaza, Walz took an aggressive tone, saying the current struggle continues that of Margaret Sanger, who opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y., nearly 100 years ago.

“We are a national movement, and Planned Parenthood is going to be here. We are providing care every day, no matter what that Supreme Court has to say,” Walz said. “And if it takes me channeling Margaret Sanger for the next 100 years, well by God, that’s what I will do.”

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Walz said that since the Supreme Court decisions, some abortion opponents have been aggressive in approaching women entering the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and at the organization’s clinics in Worcester and Springfield.

Volunteer escorts monitor the sidewalks and offer to walk with patients into the clinics, but still there has been an increase in canceled appointments, she said.

Former legislative colleagues said Walz was known for her tenacity.

Republican Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House minority leader, said he and Walz often disagreed during her tenure but were able to find common ground and collaborate on several issues.

He described Walz as a legislator who was “passionate and persistent about her viewpoint.”

“She certainly is not someone who is a shrinking violet about letting you know where she stood or what she thought,” Jones said.

Carl Sciortino was elected to the House with Walz in 2004 and worked alongside her to pass the buffer-zone bill and other legislation. Sciortino now heads AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, which supports the new bill.

He believes Walz can secure the votes necessary to make it law, he said.

“Marty is brilliant and tenacious, and I think that’s a really important combination of skills she brings to women’s health and all the work she’s been doing,” he said. “She doesn’t throw darts blindly; she throws them at specific targets with the intent of winning.”

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