Supreme Court discusses buffer zone for abortion protesters

Posted: 5:03 PM EST Jan 15, 2014   Updated: 7:15 PM EST Jan 15, 2014
Supreme Court discusses buffer zone for abortion protesters

The United States Supreme Court is signaling it may strike down a Massachusetts law that establishes a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics.

The ruling could have implications across the country.

For the last seven years, Maryanne Pohl has spent every Thursday, Friday and Saturday standing outside medical facilities that provide abortions like Planned Parenthood in Allentown.

While there is no mandated buffer for protesters outside abortion clinics in Pennsylvania, Pohl is hopeful the Supreme Court will strike down the 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts.

"It's our free speech here. We have the right to be able to tell the girls, give them some advice on the way in," said Pohl.

But other facilities, like the Allentown Women's Center in Bethlehem, said they have seen aggressive behavior from protesters.

"It's more than a balancing of free speech rights against privacy rights," said Sylvia Stengle, president, Allentown Women's Center. "We see it more as an anti-bullying effort because the people who do come in close contact with patients that are aggressive and bullying are the only ones who pose a problem."

The Allentown Women's Center used to be located on Union Boulevard in Allentown, but after several incidents in which protesters were arrested, 13 protesters sued the city of Allentown saying their right to free speech was being violated.

A judge agreed.

Since then, the clinic has moved to an industrial park in Bethlehem, where it's buffered from protesters by a parking lot, but Stengle said every once in a while there are incidents. She hopes buffer zone laws remain intact.

"If it's struck down, there will be more problems in the future of this type than there were before," said Stengle.

"Oftentimes, they change their minds and that is why it's important that we are here," said Pohl.

The Allentown Women's Center said abortion is one of many women's reproductive services it provides.

Both sides of the issue will be watching what happens with the Supreme Court closely.

A ruling is expected by June.