July 17, 2014 — The Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday approved a bill (S 2281) that aims to strengthen security around reproductive health centers after the Supreme Court struck down a state "buffer zone" law that barred protests within 35 feet of clinic entrances, the Boston Globe reports.
State lawmakers are moving quickly on the legislation in order to pass it before the legislative session ends on July 31. The bill now proceeds to the state House.
Wednesday's state Senate vote came just two hours after a committee voted to pass the legislation on to the full chamber (Sampson, Boston Globe, 7/16).
The bill, filed by state Sen. Harriette Chandler (D), would give law enforcement personnel the authority to give dispersal orders if two or more protesters deliberately prevent patients or staff members from entering a clinic. Individuals who receive such orders would be required to stay at least 25 feet away from the clinic's entrance for up to eight hours.
The bill also would prohibit protesters from interfering with vehicles approaching or leaving the area, as well as intimidating or harming people accessing the clinic (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/15). In addition, victims of such intimidation would be allowed to seek damages through civil action.
State Senate President Therese Murray (D) said the bill "will restore the basic rights that all women are entitled to when it comes to how they take care of their health" (LeBlanc, AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 7/17).
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said that without new legislation, the environment surrounding abortion clinics has "no direction." He added that the bill would help set guidelines to aid law enforcement (Boston Globe, 7/16).
Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who supports the bill, said he believes it is constitutionally sound. However, he anticipates challenges.
For example, Eleanor McCullen, the plaintiff who successfully challenged the state's buffer zone law, said she would file another lawsuit if the bill is signed into law (AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 7/17).