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Fergus Cullen: No politics buffer zone - some want issue unsettled

July 02. 2014 10:20PM

Why are some pro-choice Democrats quietly happy about the recent Supreme Court decision finding buffer zones around abortion facilities to be unconstitutional violations of First Amendment free speech rights? Because given the choice, they’d rather have the issue to use politically instead of the policy.

There is a group of professional advocates and lobbyists at organizations such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL whose livelihood depends on keeping up the appearance that the right to abortion is under constant threat and could be taken away at any moment rather than be settled law. Other Democratic strategists believe the maintenance of such a perception benefits their candidates politically. Every election cycle, it provides a convenient scare tactic to use to mobilize their voters and feed the “war on women” narrative. They never want the issue to go away.

That was what the whole effort to enact New Hampshire’s buffer zone law was really about in the first place. Lawmakers and Gov. Maggie Hassan pushed for the law knowing full well that the nation’s highest court was reviewing the Massachusetts law on which New Hampshire’s was based and that a decision was imminent. The decision to strike down the law was not one of those 5-4 decisions made by an ideologically polarized court. It was 9-0, with even the court’s liberal justices agreeing the law is unconstitutional.

Hassan pushed for and signed New Hampshire’s law because she figured it was a political winner for her whether the law was struck down or not. On that point she may have been right. National polling indicates a majority of the public, including a plurality of Republicans, supports the concept of buffer zones at abortion facilities, setting aside pesky questions about constitutional niceties.

Meanwhile the decision served nearly every politician’s interests. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who once worked as a consultant for NARAL, put out a statement raising the specter of women being harassed outside abortion clinics. Gov. Hassan defended her unconstitutional law. Pro-life candidates Bob Smith and Andrew Hemingway, seeking the votes of social conservatives in their respective primaries, issued statements praising the court’s decision. Senate challenger Scott Brown, with an eye toward the general election, defended his votes, as a Massachusetts state legislator, for the politically popular law.

So everyone wins by keeping the issue alive. Politicians get to appeal to their bases and professional advocates keep their jobs and get to send out another round of fundraising appeals when the legislature revisits New Hampshire’s law in light of the court’s decision next year. After that, another court challenge. Lather, rinse, repeat. If they all can stretch the discussion of buffer zones out over two or three legislative sessions instead of one, even better.

Few people who are pro-life relish the idea that some women at some times may be subjected to protests or unwanted counseling on their way into an abortion clinic. That some who are pro-choice hope that happens so they can use such incidents to their political advantage should disappoint others who simply think buffer zones are good policy.


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