Anyone, that is, except for "employees and agents" of the abortion clinic. They're exempted from the buffer law, and can approach pregnant women or prospective patients at will. Planned Parenthood, for example, deploys official "escorts" at its large Boston facility. They function,
Meanwhile, prolife advocates are kept so far away that they have to call out to be heard — they can't initiate a normal conversation, in a gentle voice with a reassuring smile. Yelling from a distance is rarely a good way to engage in a respectful dialogue about anything with anyone. It is surely not the best way to offer support and empathy to a woman on the point of getting an abortion. Even someone deeply ambivalent or anxious about ending her pregnancy is unlikely to respond well to messages shouted from 35 feet away.
The result, not surprisingly, is that sidewalk counselors like Eleanor McCullen, the 76-year-old lead plaintiff challenging the Massachusetts law, are far less successful than they used to be at persuading women to consider alternatives to destroying their unborn baby. That, in turn, means more abortions — and more women who end up regretting them.
Women such as Paula Lucas-Langhoff,
Pregnant at 19, she was under pressure by her boyfriend to get an abortion. But the prospect filled her with trepidation. "The night before the abortion, I wandered the neighborhood looking for someone, anyone, that I could talk to who could help," she recalls. She had been assured by the abortion clinic staff that the procedure would be "easy"; in fact it was physically excruciating and emotionally traumatizing.
"I would give anything to change the past," Lucas-Langhoff tells the court in her sworn statement. "If pro-life counselors had been outside the abortion clinic that evening, my child would be alive today, but I was too young and frightened to know what to do. . . . My baby died because I was alone and had no one to help me."
Abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood insist that "most women ultimately feel relief after an abortion." But there are many women who are left with lifelong regrets, and who assert that they would never have chosen to have an abortion if only, at that last, critical moment, they could have received a different message. The Constitution protects their right to receive that message — whether the Commonwealth of Massachusetts likes it or not.
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