Planned Parenthood Celebrates Safe Access Law and commends Governor Patrick for Swift Action.
BOSTON—Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) celebrated An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, which Governor Deval Patrick signed into law today. As an “emergency law,” it will go into effect immediately.
“The Safe Access law is essential for protecting safe and unimpeded access to our health centers. It will have an immediate impact on our patients and staff, allowing us, in conjunction with local law enforcement and the Attorney General, to better ensure our patients’ ability to see their doctor without worrying about their safety and well-being,” said Marty Walz, President and CEO of PPLM. “I am grateful for Governor Patrick’s unwavering support for reproductive health care access today and throughout his time in office. The Safe Access bill is one of the last major bills he will sign into law as Governor, underscoring how important this law will be to the people of Massachusetts.”
"A woman shouldn't be forced to run through an onslaught of screaming, yelling and bullying to access health care. That's why, literally within hours of the Supreme Court decision, women’s health champions in Massachusetts sprang into action, to create the Safe Access Law and right the wrong done to women by the Supreme Court," said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "For every protester who wants to stop a woman from accessing health care, there are dozens more who have signed up to volunteer as health center escorts. And for every politician who wants to pass laws restricting women's health and rights, there are elected officials willing to stand up and do the right thing."
PPLM, along with Attorney General Martha Coakley, Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, took swift action to draft the Safe Access bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling inMcCullen v. Coakley to strike down a 2007 law that established a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone outside reproductive health care centers. The new law takes a narrowly tailored approach to address public safety concerns while meeting the legal standards established in the Supreme Court’s opinion.
At a hearing convened on July 16 by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, testimony was given by staff and providers from PPLM health centers in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield; a PPLM patient; volunteer clinic escorts; and Walz. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Committee voted to give the bill a favorable report, which was followed by the Senate’s unanimous voice vote to pass the bill. The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 116-35 vote.
Because the legislature included what is known as an emergency preamble, the Safe Access bill took effect immediately upon Governor Patrick’s signature. PPLM has already started preparing for the new law by creating the necessary signs and working with municipal officials to mark the boundary of the area where protesters may be ordered to stand temporarily if they have substantially impeded access to a health center.
An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities (S. 2283) does not create a new buffer zone, but instead enhances existing laws and creates new ones that promote public safety at and access to reproductive health care facilities in Massachusetts.
Ensuring Public Safety & Access. To enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to maintain public safety, the law prohibits certain conduct outside reproductive health care facilities that threatens access and public safety. Violation of any of these provisions can result in arrest and criminal charges.
- Withdrawal Orders: The law authorizes law enforcement officials to order the immediate withdrawal of one or more individuals who substantially impedes access to a facility entrance or driveway. After a written withdrawal order is issued, the individual(s) who received the withdrawal order must remain at least 25 feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours. A withdrawal area must be clearly marked and the withdrawal law must be posted.
- Injury & Intimidation: The law prohibits the use of a physical act or threat or force to intentionally injure or intimidate, or attempt to injure or intimidate, an individual attempting to access or depart from a facility.
- Clear Passage: The law prohibits impeding a patient or staff member’s access to or departure from a facility with the intent to interfere with that person’s ability to obtain or provide services. The law also prohibits knowingly impeding an individual or vehicle’s access to or departure from a facility.
- Vehicular Safety: The law prohibits recklessly interfering with the operation of a vehicle that attempts to enter, exit, or park at a facility.
Remedies. The law also enhances the ability of private parties and the Attorney General to ensure compliance by filing a civil action in court.
- Civil Remedies: Where an individual violates any of the above provisions, an aggrieved person or entity, or the Attorney General, may bring a civil action in Superior Court seeking injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees. Where the Attorney General brings such an action, the court may also award civil penalties. Any violation of an injunction would constitute a criminal offense. These provisions largely mirror the civil remedies available under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.
- Massachusetts Civil Rights Act: The Attorney General already has the ability through the existing Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) to seek injunctions where an individual or group “interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, or attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion” with the exercise of a protected right (including the right to access reproductive health care). The law amends the MCRA to allow the Attorney General to obtain compensatory damages on behalf of affected individuals and entities, recover litigation costs and fees, and seek civil penalties for the interference of constitutional rights.
An Act Relative to Public Safety was passed in 2007 after decades of harassment and intimidation of Massachusetts women seeking safe access to legal reproductive health care services including birth control, cancer screenings, and abortion. After enactment of the law, protesters continued to hold demonstrations outside the buffer zone, and in factrecent reporting on McCullen v. Coakley confirmed the protesters were able to engage in precisely the type of speech they said the law precluded.
Before An Act Relative to Public Safety passed in 2007, protesters stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the entrances of reproductive health centers; obstructed cars trying to enter health center driveways; dressed up as police officers in order to obtain patients’ and staff members’ personal identifying information; filmed and photographed patients’ and staff members’ vehicles; screamed at patients and staff members; and even touched their bodies. Since the Supreme Court struck down the buffer zone in June, harassment and intimidation outside of health centers has increased once again.
Since the Court’s decision, more than 1,500 supporters signed PPLM’s petition for a new law and more than 375 new volunteers applied to serve as clinic escorts at PPLM’s Boston health center. Several hundred people attended a rally at Boston City Hall Plaza on Tuesday, July 8 to protest the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley and show their support for safe access to health care.