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Editorial: Free speech and the right to safety

September 6, 2017

A law written by University of Toledo law students restricting protester accesses to abortion facilities went before Toledo council chambers last week, according to an article by the Toledo Blade. 

 

The article continued that the law would put up 20-foot buffer zones around the only remaining abortion clinic in Toledo, Capital Care Network, at 1160 W Sylvania Ave., and restrict protesters from using physical contact to “obstruct or block another person from entering into or exiting from the premises of a health care facility or reproductive health care facility by physically striking, shoving, restraining, grabbing, or otherwise subjecting the person to unwanted physical contact, or attempt or threaten to do the same.”

 

The law classifies these actions a class one misdemeanor. 

 

The two arguments on each side of the debate remain clear: the left fights for the safety of those seeking medical services at these facilities and the right fights for freedom of speech. However, the problem is more complex than black and white. 

 

Freedom of speech simply does not allow for the verbal or physical harassment of another person, which is exactly what this law seeks to restrict in Toledo.

 

The most recent ruling by the supreme court on issues with “buffer zones” around abortion access facilities was in 2014 in Massachusetts. In this case, the SC struck down the buffer zone ruling with a majority opinion citing “a painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”  
Massive violent attacks in the state surrounding abortion issues led to the creation of the law, including, according to The New York Times, a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994. 

 

The main point made by those fighting for the law to be removed was that it made it impossible for individuals who wished to give out pamphlets and/or have “quiet conversations” with women at the clinic about alternatives to abortion.

 

However, the law required a 35-foot buffer zone, much larger than that in Toledo, and specifically restricted a person's right to say certain things, limiting their free speech. 

 

The newly proposed Toledo law not only allows protesters be 15 feet closer to facilities than the Mass. law, but it focuses only on already illegal acts of physical violence, intimidation and threat.

 

Protesters at the Toledo clinic could still hand out flyers, talk quietly with passing women, hold signs, or say anything they desire. 

 

The same article by the Toledo Blade stated that the law is intentionally redundant, to emphasize it in a needed place in our community and make others feel safe when using this facility. It also stated that the law avoids restricting any signage or specific verbal statements other than threats, preventing imposition on free speech. 

 

Free speech is not the only freedom given to people in this country. Individuals have the right to feel safe and unthreatened when exercising this right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. 

 

This new law, in the most fundamental way, allows for the freedom of speech of any protester, as well as supports the right of individuals in the community to have access to these facilities and promotes safety in one of the most politically charged areas in our town.  

 

We do not get to pick and choose which laws we like to follow, nor do we get to decide that certain laws are more important than others. 

 

As a community, it is important to realize that when we have only one clinic remaining providing these services, tensions at this clinic can rise exponentially. 

 

While the Blade article stated that, per Toledo mayoral candidate and councilman Tom Waniewski, there has been no excess of police calls to the clinic, the need for laws like this one are still highly necessary. 

 

In an article by US News, Kristin Hady, the escort coordinator for Capital Care Network, says protesters sometimes harass and intimidate patients and don't respect the rules, creating safety concerns.

 

Threats of violence like this do not go away, and often escalate, showcasing even further the need for this new law. 

 

Overall, the law does not bring anything new to the abortion discussion. Utilizing buffer-zone ideas already enacted in a few states as well as emphasizing the patient's right to be free of bodily harm and threats helps to make Toledo a safer place and squash bubbling violence at Toledo’s last standing abortion access facility. 

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