Opinion

Despite being pro-life, I support buffer zones around abortion clinics

In this July 17, 2017, photo, Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers lined up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky. A federal judge issued an order July 21, 2017, to keep protesters away from a "buffer zone" outside Kentucky's only abortion clinic, which is targeted by a national anti-abortion group. U.S. District Judge David J. Hale issued a temporary restraining order sought by federal prosecutors in a pre-emptive move ahead of vigils by Operation Save America. The order is aimed at preventing abortion foes from impeding access to EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

(RNS) — Ontario is about to authorize buffer zones around abortion clinics, of the kind that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Bill 163 would prohibit anti-abortion protests within 50 meters (55 yards) of the province’s eight stand-alone abortion clinics. Ontario would join two other Canadian provinces — British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador — with similar measures.

In 2014, the U.S. high court struck down a Massachusetts law created in 2007 that established 35-foot buffer zones outside abortion clinics, also known as “bubble zones.”

In keeping with the strong American tradition of free speech, the court ruled that the law infringed upon the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion activists. Chief Justice John Roberts said that laws concerning harassment, intimidation and obstruction were sufficient to deal with abusive speech around the clinics.

As both a pro-lifer and free speech advocate, I might be expected to hate this legislation. But, with regret, I confess it seems like the right thing to do.

To be sure, I thoroughly support campus groups putting up anti-abortion posters and distributing literature in student union buildings, even as such groups have been harassed and disenfranchised by student governments and university administrations throughout North America. The nexus of abortion and women’s rights continues to deserve straightforward debate, and universities ought to be places in which such important matters are freely discussed.

But a woman exercising her legal right to an abortion should not have to run a gauntlet of screaming opponents characterizing her choice and the difficult procedure she is about to undergo in the most horrifying terms. We protect free speech so that ideas can be articulated and considered fairly, and there isn’t a lot of sober deliberation going on amid the shouting of epithets outside a clinic.

I share the horror many protesters feel about what’s happening in these clinics. But many of the women who resort to them feel lousy about what’s happening to them and what’s going to happen. If the protesters were to offer gentle alternative advice and support for these anguished women — and some do — that would be one thing.

But bubble-zone legislation doesn’t get passed because a few kind souls engaged a few willing women in thoughtful conversation on the sidewalk. In each jurisdiction that has passed these laws, violence has occasioned them.

I hate to see free speech restricted, but not if the intent and effect of these protests is mere injury, let alone the prevention of people from doing what the law allows them to do. And, despite Chief Justice Roberts’ assurances to the contrary, it’s very unlikely that overworked police officers and district attorneys are going to go to the trouble of prosecuting a few loudmouthed protesters — thus leaving the women open to abuse at a time when they feel especially vulnerable.

Bubble zones are like restraining orders: last resorts when civility and mutual respect have broken down and people fear for their safety. That evidently has been the case, so bubble-zone legislation needs to be on the table as a possible, if regrettable, recourse.

(And wouldn’t conservative Christians want bubble zones around our churches on Sunday mornings if protesters decided to use the same tactics on us as we tried to make our way in for worship?)

Meanwhile, pro-lifers have every other means of persuasion and legislation open to us. As ethicist Charles Camosy has recently written, the tide of popular opinion has already turned regarding the abortion wars, and it may be time to revisit the issue in both countries.

But without the yelling.

(John G. Stackhouse Jr. is a professor of religious studies at Crandall University in Moncton, Canada, and author, most recently, of the book, “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World.” The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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John G. Stackhouse Jr.

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  • “But a woman exercising her legal right to an abortion should not have to run a gauntlet of screaming opponents characterizing her choice and the difficult procedure she is about to undergo in the most horrifying terms. ” In most cases the woman is only thinking about herself at this point and there is another person to think about – abortion is just more than messing up one lifetime.

  • Common sense. She certainly isn’t thinking about the baby about to be deprived a probable full life and murdered, no matter how she tries to sugar coat it. Only God has the right to life and death.

  • This is your version of common sense.
    You can’t know the reasons behind the choice to abort, especially when you’ve never experienced one or helped anyone with a high risk pregnancy. BTW, what’s your god doing to help the unwanted babies that are languishing in state custody subjected to all sorts of horrors. In my state the thousands of churches aren’t doing a damn thing. The number of babies and children placed in custody in my state has risen to over 1100 in the past year, 7000+ in state custody.

  • A lot of babies have been born who mothers were told would kill them, Navy. God has control over that; I don’t.

  • Jeepers, you know a lot of people eh? All those Christians and what they think and what they are doing, and yet, they’re allowing you to be unconverted… Sad for you

  • I don’t need Christians to ALLOW me to do anything. I don’t need them to validate my existence. Definitely don’t need them controlling my thoughts, speech, and behavior.

    And yeah, I’ve known quite a few women who have had abortions for a variety of reasons. Health reasons were the majority. Rape in a couple of cases, incest in one that to this day still disgusts me. But you see, THEY CHOSE what was best for themselves and their families. The key word here is CHOICE.

  • My dad was the result of a rape. He lived a full, happy life to 91 years old with children who love him. There is nothing indicating it is proper to murder the child of a rapist.

  • That’s what you choose to believe.
    Those mothers chose the lives of their fetus over their own, which was/is perfectly legal.
    My worker chose to continue her very high risk pregnancy…and I supported her in her choice. Just like I supported the friend with epilepsy who HAD to abort to avoid uncontrolled grand mal seizures. As soon as they discovered an effective medication she and her husband had a beautiful baby girl, a teenager now and still quite beautiful.
    I know a lot of women who have had risky pregnancies because I’ve been on bases contaminated by neurotoxins, benzene, and mutagens. At one base service women and spouses were sent off island a soon as their pregnancies were confirmed.
    I’ve babysat some birth control babies too. Their fathers were stupid randy bastards too arrogant to comprehend how the pills worked, too manly to go to planned parenting appointments with their wives and learn something.
    I’ve been on this rodeo called earth for 53 years and traveled the globe and learned about other cultures. I’ve seen some sick shit but not the carnage of combat other service women are experiencing. For that I’m grateful, however, I will NEVER agree with ideology or dogma being used to inflict harm on or restrict the rights of others.
    It’s what I swore and oath to do, repeatedly.

  • That is the complete opposite from how women writing about their experiences have felt. All of the ones I’ve read expressed that it was a difficult decision to make.

  • My grandmother had no other choice. She is a Christian and believes in the sanctity of life. I’m very pleased she isn’t a murderer.

  • When making an immoral choice and writing about it, it’s always best to put it in a “I had no other choice” context

  • When a doctor tells you you and the fetus are likely going to die, and your husband will be a widower and single father before the age of 40, your options have narrowed considerably.

  • She did have a choice. To give birth or to have an abortion. That she used her religious faith to make her choice doesn’t change that.

  • A baby that has drawn breath, no. That’s the part where you folks tend to consign them to the dust bin by withholding life sustaining care.
    A non viable fetus, that’s not your business as it’s not your uterus.

  • You are mischaracterizing Sandi here. Her reply to you may be snarky, but it is not hateful. She began by defending a philosophical perspective that I believe has essential merit, then began the back and forth that usually accompanies these debates. The passion felt on both sides is obviously non-negotiable; the arguments made in this instance are somewhat semantical in any case, though I would agree with Sandi that given the normal context of biblical injunction regarding the sanctity of life, particularly innocent life, a mature Christian would recognize that “choice” is not a proper option for committed members of the faith.

  • Doesn’t happen all that often with respect to the question of abortion, statistics bear that out, while pro-choice advocates regularly ignore the instances where women die as a result of the procedure. The numbers are relatively small and they probably compare to the numbers of women who might succumb if denied an abortion. In every case and situation what should be a valued human life is lost, whether mother or child.

  • Quite obviously, Roberts was wrong. The current laws are NOT enough to keep protestors from harassing clients!

  • https://www.cbsnews.com/news/judge-orders-buffer-zone-outside-kentucky-abortion-clinic-ahead-of-protests/ The order was aimed specifically at nearly a dozen anti-abortion activists who were arrested at a May demonstration when police said they blocked access to the downtown Louisville clinic. The judge’s action also applies to anyone else “acting in concert or participation” with them.

    “With the conference coming we thought it would be good and make sure everyone is on the same page, know what you could and couldn’t do,” Maj. Eric Johnson with the Louisville Metro Police Department told CBS affiliate WLKY-TV ahead of the judge’s order. “Essentially what this act does, it prohibits blocking a person’s access to the entrance of a facility.”

    https://thinkprogress.org/abortion-clinic-kentucky-scene-8f9ffba216cd/

  • Sandi, among other things, could you please stop acting like you are an authority on what Christians can and can not choose? That would be *great*.

    Psst. Free will to chose between right and wrong is kind of important in our doctrine sister. Just, you know. Throwing that out there.

  • Please provide evidence this is a common current-day version of pro-life activism outside abortion facilities, professor: “screaming opponents characterizing her choice and the difficult procedure she is about to undergo in the most horrifying terms.”

  • I bet you have no problem with the ongoing genocide of people of color by the white supremacists who run Planned Parenthood. Your agenda is no different than Richard Spencer. They both end with dead children with more melanin than you.

  • And to eliminate the issue completely? Sexually active global citizens must practice safe sex. And what happens when they don’t? One million unplanned pregnancies in the USA alone due to women on the Pill forgetting to take the daily dose. And another one million unplanned pregnancies due to men not using a condom even though they have one in their pocket.

  • I’d be curious to know what the limiting principle is here for the author. He supports buffer zones when protestors are yelling or being verbally abusive at abortion clinics. And it appears he would support buffer zones around churches where something similar was taking place. What about businesses or private residences or schools? What about parks or other public places? Should anyone have to walk by speakers who make them uncomfortable at any time?

    These are important questions dealing with free speech. Where should the line be drawn in the U.S.? Thoughts from others? If you’re having trouble sympathizing with the perspective of protestors protesting what goes in at abortion clinics, think about it from the perspective of protestors protesting something something going on at a place that you disapprove of.

  • Thanks for the news report. This is helpful. If protestors were truly blocking access as opposed to just standing on the sidewalk nearby then I can see why a buffer zone might be needed.

  • I am not mischaracterizing Sandi, I’m quoting her. She has said in the past that she is at times a hateful person and she needs to work to control it. I remembered her mentioning this, not so much to use as ammunition, but because it was a starkly honest admission. Anyone willing to make that kind of self-assessment is worth conversing with, at least online. But not at the expense of insulting my intelligence. Nevertheless, if you read her response as snark, please give me the same benefit.
    Although I disagree with the idea that a fetus is equivalent to a born human being, that is not what I’m arguing about with Sandi. I am failing to understand the vociferousness of the objection to the word “choice.” I have often read Christian commenters on RNS and elsewhere state that accepting Jesus as your savior is a choice. You can either accept or reject Jesus’s message. Well guess what? I feel the same way about that as Sandi’s grandmother felt about keeping her baby. I will never convert to Christianity, even upon the threat of death, because to do so would represent not only religious blasphemy but a surrender of *my* philosophical perspective. Nevertheless, I still have made a choice, to do one thing or the other. Even if some commenters have their way, and abortion is made illegal and women (never men) and their doctors are put in prison, it’s still a choice, as abortions will simply be done illegally. I intend to ensure that choice is preserved as legal.

  • Uh, for the record…I’m a southern black woman and recovering Baptist. As for your misconceptions about the operations of Planned Parenthood clinics, who do you think serves the largest population of poor women of ALL skin tones? Look what happened in South Texas and southern Indiana.

  • And yet, here you are, heaping abuse on internet strangers and women you have never met in order to uphold the righteousness of the pro-life position and Christianity as a whole.

  • False witness Sandi:

    “In most cases the woman is only thinking about herself at this point and there is another person to think about – abortion is just more than messing up one lifetime.”

    ” All those Christians and what they think and what they are doing, and yet, they’re allowing you to be unconverted… Sad for you”

    ” I wrote it slower for you this time”

    And, in case you forgot, if you’re not feeling guilty, it’s because your pride is blinding you to your own sin. Fairly basic Christian doctrine these days. Of *course* I suffer from a guilty conscience. Just not about this.

    Well, maybe a little, in that this is going way worse for you than you think it is, and I am the one calling you out in public for your errors.

  • “in most cases” – you have difficulty with the truth?
    It is sad for someone who is unconverted. We don’t want to see anyone end up in perdition.
    If you have a difficulty with comments between spud and I, that is a tame one.
    “And, in case you forgot….” Christ died so I can have peace, so you’re a bit off there.
    lol……stand in line to call me out for my errors – lol
    Now, back to my question. Are you suffering from a guilty conscience?
    Oh, and btw, thank you for the blessings.

  • Well you must know the Rare women then because true Health Reasons are Rare looking out for your self like not gaining the weight not putting in the time to have the baby now those health reasons are common which I am sure are health reasons to you

  • So its Not Murder if you don’t believe then? Then it is only doing away with something you don’t want just like you throw out the trash?

  • Who Founded Planned Parenthood and what was her Goal? Also what still is the goal that they still have?

  • It is not murder because it is not the equivalent of a born human being. Typical to characterize me as not “believing.” In fact my view is informed by Ex. 21:22-23.

  • I am one of the Grandmas that would stand in front of Planned Parenthood, offering to speak with young ladies that were walking up to the front door. none of the other volunteers and certainly not myself ever screamed at anyone. we invited the young ladies to consider alternatives to abortion, the viability of the babies they were carrying and practical kinds of assistance. The only screaming and obscenities I heard came from the pro-aborts.

  • If by calling a baby a fetus, you are hoping to deny that child it’s humanity, I am wondering why you have the need to do so. May I recommend some reading up on Post-Abortion Syndrome? I say this with love and compassion. There is healing and reconciliation for those who may be suffering.

  • Thank you. I read about the wonderful Spirit-filled lady in Canada. She is a lady after my own heart. So are you.

  • So if a baby was born at 5 months instead of the normal 9 months it would be a baby and it is out of the womb but the baby that stays in 6 months in the womb when that mom says she wants to abort it is fine because it is still in the womb but the baby that is out and to you living that baby is a baby so it then would be murder to kill the one out of the womb even though it is younger then the baby that is still in the womb

  • As closely as I’ve followed Sandi’s comments, I’ve never seen her make the reference to herself that you aver. In that context I will have to treat your assertion as an unproven second hand statement, unless you can cite the thread wherein said comment was made. Though threats of death have been made and carried out against those unwilling to embrace the faith by so called “Christians” of the past, I’m confident that you will not face that threat in the future, at least not by anyone who truly appreciates what the call to Christ commands. I would think that the precepts of historic Judaism would militate against this thing called “choice” as it applies to prenatal life. On a more personal note, some of our recent exchanges have been a mite testy, even this one, so I would like to say in all sincerity, I regret that it has become so.

  • Alas, Sandi has privatized, or as she would say, privatised, her comments, so I can’t find it.
    I thankfully have no expectation of being forced to convert to Christianity. I brought it up as a way of making plain how serious I was about the matter.
    Historic Judaism, to be precise, did not have a position on pro-choice because it’s a political question. However, the short answer to the traditional approach in Judaism to abortion is that while it is frowned upon because it ends a potential human life, that potential is never the equivalent of a born human, even in the case of a viable fetus. It is never “murder” in the sense that the Christian anti-abortion movement uses that word. The mother’s life always takes precedence. There may be many reasons halacha would permit abortion.
    Sorry if I’ve been testy, I’ll try to keep it under control.

  • I am not hoping to deny anything. Fetus is the scientifically correct word. But you will notice that I also used the word baby.
    I don’t need to read up on “Post-Abortion Syndrome,” I’m well aware of the impacts from mental health that come from either having to terminate a pregnancy for any variety of reasons, or from the right wing telling you you’re a murderer. But I’ll be happy to read up on it if you read up on Post-Partum Preeclampsia, a condition so deadly it would require some serious deliberations if my spouse were to become pregnant again.

  • You’re fine, thank you for the reply, and also for your insight that Judaism is both a religion (or spiritual practice) and an ethnicity. I though the Rabbi missed the strike zone on that one.

  • “But a woman exercising her legal right to an abortion should not have to run a gauntlet of screaming opponents characterizing her choice and the difficult procedure she is about to undergo in the most horrifying terms.”

    Why? Not only are you opposing free speech, but you are opposing people making statements of fact.

    “And, despite Chief Justice Roberts’ assurances to the contrary, it’s very unlikely that overworked police officers and district attorneys are going to go to the trouble of prosecuting a few loudmouthed protesters”

    It is not illegal to be a loudmouth. Also, if the police are so overworked, how are they going to have the time to enforce a bubble rule?

    “Bubble zones are like restraining orders: last resorts when civility and mutual respect have broken down and people fear for their safety.”

    Restraining orders are not issued simply because civility and mutual respect have broken down. If someone is threatening safety, a clinic can, you know, get a restraining order.

    “(And wouldn’t conservative Christians want bubble zones around our churches on Sunday mornings if protesters decided to use the same tactics on us as we tried to make our way in for worship?)”

    Nope.

    “Meanwhile, pro-lifers have every other means of persuasion and legislation open to us. ”

    Because of the Constitution, to which you want to make an exception. If you can just say screw the 1st amendment (which, to be clear, is what you are doing), then there is no reason not to ban other means of expression.

    But yeah, I’m glad I don’t live in Canada. Rights are awesome.

  • “Free will to chose between right and wrong is kind of important in our doctrine sister.”

    You can choose to drop kick a baby. That isn’t a Christian choice, though.

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