By Scott Tibbs, February 4, 2014
The Maginot Line was considered a work of genius when it was constructed, but it was ultimately a very expensive military failure. Imagine if, instead of building a series of military fortifications, France had simply painted a bright yellow line along the length of its eastern border. That would have stopped the German Wehrmacht in its tracks, saving France from Nazi occupation. At least, the government of Massachusetts seems to believe that.
Several times now on her program Rachel Maddow has used the murder of two receptionists by anti-abortion terrorist John Salvi as a reason why the buffer zones are needed to protect clinic staff and women seeking abortions. Obviously, a bright yellow line would have stopped Salvi from walking into those clinics and committing murder. Salvi might have been willing to walk into a clinic and commit murder, but he would not have been willing to walk past the line.
It is laughable to argue that some yellow paint would have stopped Salvi from committing crimes worthy of death. Whatever other arguments can be made about why the buffer zones are necessary and are an allowable "time, place and manner" restriction on free speech, it is nonsensical to use the crimes of John Salvi as an argument for the buffer zones. People who do so cannot be taken seriously in the field of ideas.
As to the zones themselves, it will be interesting to see how this is decided. It is established legal doctrine that government may place "time, place and manner" restrictions on First Amendment rights. For example, the Constitution forbids government from restricting Bubba's right to petition government for redress of grievances, but Bubba may not stand outside a Congressman's bedroom window at 3:00 a.m. screaming into a bullhorn.
The buffer zone, though, raises legitimate free speech concerns. (Here is a helpful picture of what the buffer zone looks like at one abortion "clinic.") The problem here is that the buffer zone is entirely content-based. If you are walking down the street, you can enter and exit the buffer zone freely. If you are engaged in a protest against abortion, you may not enter the restricted area. Since the buffer is not equally enforced, it is at best constitutionally suspect.
Let's be honest here. The point of the buffer zone is not to prevent violence, and yellow paint on the sidewalk would do absolutely nothing to accomplish that objective. The point is to protect the money-making business of abortion. That is not acceptable, and the buffer zone should therefore be struck down.