WORCESTER, Mass. — Massachusetts pro-life advocates who went to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in an abortion buffer zone case said caring for women and being the voice of the unborn are among the issues at stake.
The case, McCullen v. Coakley, was brought by several people who volunteer as “sidewalk counselors” outside Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.
Under a 2007 state law, there are yellow semicircular lines painted 35 feet from the entrances to the clinics, delineating how far away the sidewalk counselors and abortion protesters must stay. The law prohibits conversations about abortion within the zone by anyone except employees of the abortion clinics.
The oral arguments were Jan. 15, and a ruling in the case is expected before the court adjourns for the summer in late June.
After the arguments, Roderick P. Murphy told The Catholic Free Press, Worcester’s diocesan newspaper, that being able to get into the high court and hear the arguments firsthand “was very impressive – the whole thing. Being in the audience. Just getting into the place.”
Murphy is director of Problem Pregnancy, a center in Worcester which offers alternatives to abortion and is located across from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts abortion clinic.
There were hundreds of people waiting to get in to hear the proceedings. Some, like him and his wife, Jean, had prior approval. Lead plaintiff Eleanor McCullen was behind him, he said, and in the front row was plaintiff Fr. Eric Cadin, a priest who does sidewalk counseling or praying outside the Boston Planned Parenthood location.
“There’s a certain aura,” he said of being in the chamber where the Supreme Court hears oral arguments. He noted the justices sit in big chairs; some looked up at the ceiling or drank coffee at times.
So one wonders, are they listening?
“Oh, you know they’re listening,” responded Roderick Murphy, a member of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge. “They are fierce with those lawyers.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. set up a perfect scenario where two women stand inside a buffer zone, he said. One tells a client the abortion clinic it surrounds is not a safe place to go into. The other says it is safe. Why should the first have no legal right to speak her message when the second can speak hers because she represents Planned Parenthood?
McCullen told the Free Press that when she and the others in her group left the court, Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio brought her over to a microphone to ask her questions. Totenberg had been standing inside a buffer zone while interviewing McCullen in Boston a few weeks before, and seemed surprised when the abortion clinic guard told her to move. McCullen said she herself stood outside the line.
On the day of the oral arguments, McCullen said, she told the reporters, photographers and others who gathered to listen: “I care about the women and I care about the unborn.”
Someone asked why she cares when she doesn’t know these people.
“Americans are very caring people,” she recalled saying. When a disaster strikes, they help people they don’t know. However, she added, “We do take our young from the womb.”
Connor is on the staff of The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.