Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled against abortion clinic buffer zones in Massachusetts, arguing that a woman’s right to unobstructed access in seeking reproductive health services was of less weight than the right of protesters to abusively taunt and harangue her with their political opinions. In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS judges ruled that Massachusetts’ abortion clinics’ 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinic front doors, which effectively restrict all non-clinic employees or patients from congregating and blocking access (regardless of political affiliation), is unconstitutional. This decision despite the fact that SCOTUS protects buffer zones (many larger than health clinic buffer zones) around polling places and even the Supreme Court itself.
In practice, last week’s decision established that a woman’s right to privacy and reproductive choice is less constitutionally important than the right of protesters to verbally abuse her.
Today, SCOTUS made a second heinous ruling in regards to women’s rights. SCOTUS ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby against portions of the Affordable Care Act that mandated abortion and contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby lawyers asserted the right of the company to — on religious grounds — refuse health insurance plans for employees that includes contraceptive and abortion care coverage, regardless of the employee’s own political or moral opinions on the subject.
Or, more specifically, to permit employers to force its stance on abortion access onto their employees.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously today that Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone ruling is unconstitutional. In 2007, the state amended the state-wide Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it illegal to congregate within 35 feet of the entrance of an abortion clinic, including on public sideways and roadways.
The amendment was implemented to directly address an oft-used tactic by the anti-choice Right: the harassing and abusive screeching and finger-wagging that seeks to shame women entering clinics for seeking an abortion (whether they are actually doing so or not).
Anti-affirmative action advocates are celebrating the Schuette decision as the final nail in the coffin of affirmative action. Anchors on Fox News are even hailing the Schuette decision as a victory for civil rights, the proverbial “Promised Land” of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
But, let me be clear: this is a spurious interpretation of Schuette, one that seems designed more to energize the anti-affirmative action base than to provide a clear and accurate summary of the Schuette decision.
Furthermore, while Schuette is certainly a setback for the affirmative action fight, the decision has far more general implications for minority rights in this country that should not be swept under the rug. In fact, the Schuette decision should be disconcerting not just to defenders of affirmative action, but to all minority groups (particularly people of colour): Schuette ultimately had only a minimal impact on the legal questions raised in the affirmative action fight, but its damaging impact on minority rights may be vast and still virtually unknown.