Editor’s Note: A guest post by Ryan Verret, Assistant Director and Medical Ethics Director at Louisiana Right To Life
Yesterday, I got to witness in person as the United States Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the legality of buffer zones at abortion facilities. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life: standing beside my courageous friend as she challenged an unjust law before our nation’s highest court.
The case at hand, McCullen vs. Coakley, deals with Massachusetts “selective exclusion law”, S.B.1353, which makes it a crime for any person other than a facility employee or agent to enter or remain in the “buffer zone” surrounding the entrance of an abortion facility. Of course, this 35-foot zone contains what is supposed to be a public sidewalk.
Over a decade ago, the Supreme Court upheld buffer zones in a Colorado case that claimed to protect the health and safety of both patients and staff entering and exiting abortion facilities. When the state of Colorado won (Hill vs. Colorado) back in 2000, the pro-life movement was handed a defeat by the Supreme Court. However, the court has changed, and many believe the Supreme Court could now overturn its decision in 2000.
When I was in school in Boston, I became good friends with eventual lead plaintiff in this case, Eleanor McCullen. I learned much from her during the four years I was there. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, Eleanor spends the day at Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston effectively giving important information and counseling to mothers (and fathers) who feel their only option is abortion.
Rain, sun, or snow, Eleanor is there, even after two knee transplants.
From a distance, you might think Eleanor is just another grandmother on the street. However, she has been a leading force in pro-life efforts in Massachusetts for many years. When you walk into her home, you cannot miss the pictures on the refrigerator of the babies and mothers she has helped, and the car seats and baby clothes she plans to deliver. She is the spiritual mother to countless children who were saved from the violent act of abortion as well as a friend to many mothers and fathers in need.
Eleanor is also not a dangerous person that needs to be prevented by law from walking within 35 feet of an abortion facility. Yesterday, when the Massachusetts attorneys referred to Eleanor and her allies as “protestors”, Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted to say, “This is not a protest case. These people do not want to protest abortion. They want to talk to the women who are about to get an abortion and try to talk them out of it.
After the hearing, Eleanor stated the following about the Massachusetts law:
“It goes against my First Amendment rights. It’s America and I should be able to walk and talk gently and lovingly anywhere with anybody. I should be able to do that. One child missed and one couple missed is too much. This law prevents the saving of life!”
As I sat in the Supreme Court right behind friends Eleanor and co-plaintiff Fr. Eric Cadin, I couldn’t help but think that this was a once in a lifetime experience. I personally witnessed how important it is for us all to do our part in fighting for the rights of the unborn and making sure that the freedom and rights granted to us by our constitution be protected for the next generation.
At stake in McCullen vs. Coakley is not only the tragic killing of an unborn child, but also our freedom to educate the public about abortion in the public square and on public sidewalks.
The justices seemed favorable to Eleanor yesterday, and we look forward to hearing their decision when announced in June.