The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

July 17, 2014

Jim Bailey: Supreme Court won’t let abortion rights trump other freedoms

If an abortion protest occurs in a forest, does it make a sound? How about the next morning?

The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the question, sort of. And the nine justices uncharacteristically were unanimous in deciding an arbitrary 35-foot barrier is a violation of the First Amendment rights of those trying to get their message across to others who may not want to listen to it.

The nine old men and women (maybe the original term is a bit out of date these days) weren’t quite as unified, though, when they ruled 5-4 that if employees of firms with religious objections want contraceptives, particularly the morning-after type, they’ll have to pay for it themselves. How dare they?

The latter ruling was a victory for firms such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., who pushed the suit on the owners’ religious grounds. Certain state-of-the-art forms of birth control, of course, are geared to nipping fertilized eggs in the bud, likely before they show up on a pregnancy test.

To the purists it doesn’t matter; abortion is abortion. But if nobody listens, how do you get the message across?

Certainly not with a 35-foot protest-free zone, as Massachusetts law required outside abortion clinics. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t be fielding those suppertime robo-calls from telemarketers who manage to find ways around increasingly meaningless do-not-call lists. And I expect demonstrators at political rallies who have found themselves confined to areas blocks away from the events themselves will be the next to line up outside the Supreme Court building.

It’s probably no surprise that Chief Justice John Roberts said authorities have less intrusive ways to deal with problems outside abortion clinics. “For a problem shown to arise only once a week in one city at one clinic, creating 35-foot buffer zones at every clinic across the Commonwealth is hardly a narrowly tailored solution,” he said. And the more conservative justices were even less restrained in their support of protesters’ rights of free speech.

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