Photo courtesy of WCSH6 Portland
laws in the United States guard the perimeter of certain public facilities to
prevent potential harassers from disrupting activities. These laws were
enacted to protect citizens and their civil rights. Many polling places have
designated buffer zones, as does the Supreme Court building, where
demonstrations, vigils, and speech-making are only permitted on an adjacent
The federal law Freedom of
Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act was enacted in 1994 to provide patients with unimpeded access to
health clinics, especially family planning and abortion clinics. Several states
and municipalities have adopted and expanded FACE provisions to create buffer
zone areas surrounding reproductive health clinics in Chicago, IL; Sacramento,
CA; Portland, MN; and Pittsburgh, PA.
Safety zones help ensure the ability of all women, including Asian American women, to assert their reproductive rights and empowers their decision making process. For a
significant number of Asian American women already disadvantaged by inadequate sex education, language barriers, and attendant cultural shaming of out-of-wedlock
pregnancy, buffer zones play a crucial role in their
ability to access needed health and reproductive care.
In 2007, a total of 13,488
Asian Americans nationwide went to Planned Parenthood for abortions. Of this
number, 5,494 did so in California. The National Asian Women’s Health
Organization found that nearly 70 percent of Asian American women support a
woman's right to choose. The percentage increases to 90 percent in cases of
rape or incest.
Last Friday, the Supreme
Court decided that the 35-foot buffer zone enforced on Massachusetts abortion
clinic sites was unconstitutional, citing that the law violated the First Amendment rights of protestors. The lead plaintiff in the case, Eleanor
McCullen, a member of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, contended that
a buffer zone took away her "First Amendment right" to talk to women
who are considering abortion at some of these health clinics. “It's
America," she said. "I should be able to walk and talk gently,
lovingly, anywhere with anybody."
Yet pro-choice activists on
the ground have a very different story to tell. By many accounts, a majority of protestors outside abortion and family facilities have been anything but loving and gentle. “When I would go to the clinic, [anti-choice] protestors would push
up right against your car, with their face right up against your window,”
said Ashley Hartman, a volunteer clinic escort in Ohio who also identifies as
Asian American. She reflected on one incident when she escorted a woman who came to the
clinic accompanied by a young girl, aged four or five: “They yelled the most horrible
things. They told the little girl ’do you know that your mom is a slut and a
whore?’ It was terrifying. These people are only about coercion and
Another clinic escort,
Rachel Goldfarb of New York City, live-tweeted her experience. She detailed the
harassment that she and the woman she was escorting faced. “Someone should have
walked you into the clinic and killed you too,” one protestor told her.
These are not just empty threats.
Since 1977, the National Abortion Federation has documented 8 murders, 17
attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, 399 invasions, 100 acid attacks,
and 663 bioterrorism threats targeting abortion providers and their facilities.
Buffer zone laws enable
people to access the services that they are constitutionally allowed to
have, without facing physical harassment, violence, and intimidation. At the
same time, they do not violate others' ability to protest. As attacks
against women’s reproductive health choices only continue to mount, buffer zone laws in
other states may soon come under attack, and initiatives to push for new buffer
zones outside of health clinics are likely to fall by the wayside. This will have an impact on the ability of all women to access needed health care.
For women who suffer from higher health
disparities, including many AAPI women, the recent Supreme Court decision creates further barriers to equal health access
and the right to make personal family planning decisions.