Enact bubble-zone laws

Staff Editorial


The Womens’ Choice Clinic in Ann Arbor, Mich., has endured a rash of aggressive protesters over the past months. Not merely content to express their peaceful opposition to abortion, the protesters have actively tried to prevent women from entering the building through blocking the clinic’s doors and other tactics of intimidation. Due to the clinic’s location adjacent to a police station, it is not on private property and protesters have been permitted to approach the entrance. Many women have been driven away from the clinic, unable to utilize its resources.

In an effort to improve this troubling situation the Michigan Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League is hoping to institute a “bubble-zone” law in Ann Arbor. Many municipalities and local governments throughout North America have adopted these laws to prevent protesters from interfering with the daily business of clinics.

MARAL is currently drafting legislation that will resemble a Colorado law ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in Hill vs. Colorado. The Colorado law states that individuals may not approach within eight feet of an individual without their explicit consent. The statute only applies in the 100-foot radius surrounding women’s health clinics.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 June 2000 decision argued that the legislation did not violate the First Amendment’s free speech provision. The Court rightfully wrote that the law is not a form of speech censorship but merely a regulation of where speech can occur. The decision also upheld that the statute was both narrowly tailored and a compelling government interest.

The government’s responsibility to protect the safety and health of its citizens justifies increased attention for organizations providing health services. The court decided that protecting women from the potential trauma of confrontational protests fell within these bounds and was an acceptable course of action. The expectation of privacy before visiting a clinic was also emphasized in the ruling.

In a related case, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, the court recognized “the First Amendment does not demand that patients at a medical facility undertake Herculean efforts to escape the cacophony of political protests.”

While the laws have drawn the acrid criticism of abortion opponents and been denounced as an infringement on speech, they do not limit protesters’ ability to express their discontent for abortion. The content of their message is not restricted in any respect. Nor do the laws prevent protesters from communicating with women. But it does remove the possibility of physical harm and allays feelings of outright intimidation. Bubble-zone laws are a necessary response to the irresponsible protestors who attempt to disrupt legal activity.