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Patrick signs law replacing buffer zone provision

Governor Deval Patrick on Wednesday signed into law a bill aimed at curbing harassment and obstruction outside abortion clinics, just over a month after the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state’s buffer zone law that kept protesters 35 feet away from clinic entrances.

At a ceremony, Patrick said he was still “still stunned” by the ruling and thanked House and Senate members for their “fabulous and fast and sound” response to it. The new law, he said, “affirms again that we, in this Commonwealth, step up, reasonably and appropriately, to secure a woman’s right to choose.”

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Among those who watched Patrick sign the bill was Liam Lowney, whose sister, Shannon, was killed in 1994 when John C. Salvi 3d opened fire at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, killing two clinic employees.

The bill gives police more authority to disperse protesters who have substantially impeded access to a clinic. It then allows law enforcement to require protesters to remain 25 feet away from the driveway or entrance of the facility for eight hours or until the clinic closes for the day.

The legislation also boosts the ability of the attorney general to seek fines and compensatory damages from unlawful protesters.

Abortion rights opponents have vowed to challenge the bill in court, saying it effectively allows police to enforce a buffer zone around abortion clinics.

But Senator Harriette L. Chandler, a Worcester Democrat who backed the bill, said its language came directly from the Supreme Court ruling, which suggested Massachusetts could replace the buffer zone law by beefing up laws concerning intimidation and obstruction.

“It will stand up to constitutional muster. It must stand up to constitutional muster,” Chandler said at the ceremony. “Our women must be safe.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at
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