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COMMENTARY: On abortion clinic buffer zones and busybodies

Today is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a case intended to overturn Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law, one of endless efforts to chip away at the right to legal abortion established by Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortionistas are so persistently pesky.

The Massachusetts law mandates a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances, which keeps sidewalks clear and, incidentally, protects patients from protesters—or sidewalk “counselors” as anti-abortion organizations prefer their protesters be called.

I get this. “Counselor” inspires a more positive response in media consumers than “protester.” But, hey, you call yourself a counselor, and I want to see the license that allows you to hang that shingle.

While we wait for that, I suppose we could attempt to accommodate both sides of this battle, and call the people who stand outside clinics interfering with patients countesters or proselors or something similarly silly. But I figure they’re actually a bunch of busybodies.

If I’m heading to Planned Parenthood because I have a urinary tract infection or I need a mammogram or things are suddenly smelling kind of funky down there, I don’t want some stranger sticking her or his nose in my business. And if I’m heading to the clinic because I have an unwanted pregnancy? I really don’t want some strange busybody in my business.

But here’s the thing. These countestelorés don’t care what I want (nice Latin touch, eh?). All they care about is what they believe I should want. And, aside from counseling them on the impropriety of such public demonstrations of self-absorption—and their failure to generalize the primary don’t-talk-to-strangers lesson—there’s not a whole lot we can do to counter their faith-driven behavior, rude though it is, other than mandate that they keep their distance.

And faith is the thing here. These protselors—at least the ones who are not shrieking “Baby killer!” in patients’ faces or body blocking them before they reach the clinic door—are indeed proselytizing, attempting to convert their targets to their way of thinking, and they do it with free-flowing biblical rhetoric and medical blather. It’s a kinder, gentler way of telling clinic patients that if they have abortions they’re baby killers, God’s gonna hate them, and they’ll end up with deadly ectopic pregnancies, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, breast cancer, placenta previa, psychological and emotional trauma, fatal infections—and don’t forget the dry cough and shortness of breath! By the way, I’m so grateful to the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center for publishing all this misinformation, sourced not from the American Medical Association, but from anti-abortion organizations; otherwise you might not have believed me that anti-abortionistas would so blatantly, you know, fib.

Yep, you got it: Peaceful “counselors” have been known to lie to change pregnant women’s minds—it’s enough to give you shortness of breath!

Now, there are some lies we all should tell pregnant women: You look beautiful, The last trimester is much easier than the first two, No matter how bad your labor is, don’t worry—you won’t remember any of it. But lie to them about their reproductive health? About bogus medical outcomes? That’s pretty poopy. And as I was listening to the Massachusetts case arguments before the court (Justice Scalia was his typical punkasschump), the justices’ disregard for the women targeted by these procoutenselterlors was increasingly annoying, albeit the patients aren’t the legal focus of the case. And, of course, freedom of speech means the procoutenselterlors have the right to say most anything they want. I, on the other hand, do not have the right to not hear it. I can, instead, hustle my buns into the clinic to avoid their peaceful insistence on telling me what to do (something I’ve abhorred since adolescence), unless they’re peacefully detaining me, begging me not to kill my baby.

There’s a power imbalance in that there relationship. Hence the desire for a bit of a buffer for clinic patients, something to serve as a protective barrier from unwanted lectures on purportedly divine intensions for our uteri. But we have a funky Supreme Court these days. I’ve no inkling what the majority will decide. I do know that if they decide against Massachusetts’ law, anti-abortionistas will have a hell of a party, because the decision could put other state and municipal buffer laws at risk.

Being a bit of a planner, though, I’ve prepared for the worst while hoping for a just decision. Remember that Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center I mentioned? It’s one of those fake clinics, set up to sucker women in with “free medical quality pregnancy tests” and then barrage them with anti-abortion messages. I’ve left the center and their misinformation alone, because it’s the polite thing to do. But if the court decides against the buffer law, I’m going to trot down to the center with Planned Parenthood brochures in hand, and I’ll peacefully offer one to each woman, while being sure to stay out of her path. It’s called “modeling appropriate behavior.” But the biggest difference between the proctolecstors and me? I know the decision is the woman’s to make, whatever it might be.

Love,

K-B

Photo credit: © K-B Gressitt 2013

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Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at kbgressitt@gmail.com.