Buffering

This summer’s Supreme Court decision to eliminate buffer zones made a splash in political circles, but it hasn’t changed much for protesters.

By Emily Overholt


Frank loaded his folding chair into the car Saturday morning to make the half-hour drive from his home in Melrose to Allston, Massachusetts. He needed the chair because he hurt his back a few years ago and can’t be on his feet for too long anymore. He planned to be out most of the day and didn’t want his physical limitations getting in the way. By 9 a.m., rosary in hand, he had begun to pray.

Frank, 61, who asked that his last name not be used, was one of about a dozen people outside Planned Parenthood in Allston, a regular sight for natives, but one that has begun to draw abundant attention thanks to the June 29 U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminating the 35-foot buffer zone outside women’s health care centers. Before June, no demonstrators could come within the zone.

But even with the new rules, Frank’s seat sits on the painted border of the buffer zone, only gaining inches from his space last fall. While some of his associates pray or sing together, he remains quiet.


“Despite whatever you might think, we’re not here to frighten you, hurt you, make you think you’re gross or evil thing, you’re a victim too,” he said.

Since this summer’s ruling, all eyes have turned to the doors of Planned Parenthood. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick signed An Act to promote public safety and protect access to reproductive health care facilities, which allows law enforcement to push non-peaceful or threatening protests back 25 feet from the entrance or banish them all together, but pro-life advocates say this hasn’t happened.


“We sat in the statehouse and we listened to four hours of testimony saying these people (pro-life activists) are violent and vicious,” said Anne Fox, President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the state’s biggest antiabortion group. “It’s not their word against ours, if they had any kind of proof at all they would be all over the media, but there isn’t any.”

Despite Fox’s claims, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts both condemn the change, saying it endangers women.

“This decision shows a troubling level of disregard for American women, who should be able to make carefully considered, private medical decisions without running a gauntlet of harassing and threatening protesters,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in a statement released just after the court ruled in June.

A woman, who declined to be interviewed, paces within the buffer zone holding a photo of a fetus.

But for Frank and his cohorts, praying outside of Planned Parenthood on Saturday morning isn’t about politics or court decisions, it isn’t about making a statement to the government, it’s about helping women and their unborn children.

“I tell my daughters, if you make a mistake [and get pregnant], that’s life, we’ll deal with it,” said Theresa, 50, from Brookline, who also asked to be identified by only her first name.

Theresa identifies as staunchly pro-life, and helped a friend cope with her own decisions to terminate pregnancies decades ago.

“They don’t tell you how it’s going to affect you later, how it’s going to throw your hormones out of wack for years,” Theresa said.

Signs outside Planned Parenthood in Allston.

Though the signs slinging insults at women choosing to terminate pregnancies get more attention, they’re outnumbered by crosses and flyers about programs to help women with medical bills, house them away from abusive relationships, and facilitate adoptions. Much like murmured prayers can be heard more than shouted condemnation on Saturday morning.

“We’re not women haters, we love women, in my humble opinion I think the woman is god’s most beautiful creation,” Frank said. “I believe in human rights and I like to ask people who don’t agree with me … what is a human and what is a right?”

Frank has been praying in Allston for years and said the atmosphere has not changed much since he began. They come to see the women change their minds. If it works, he is elated, if not it’s a reason to keep coming back.

The rules may be changing, but Frank isn’t. He will do what he has always done: sit in his camping chair, eye the women being escorted inside the clinic with their heads down, and wait to see how they walk out.