Guest Blogger: Ellen Kolb, author and principal of levenfortheloaf.com
Now that the Supreme Court has declared in McCullen v. Coakley that the Massachusetts buffer zone around abortion facilities is unconstitutional, where do New Hampshire’s candidates stand? Here’s a roundup of what gubernatorial and Senate hopefuls are saying on their web sites and in news reports. Note that candidate Scott Brown helped pass the law that just failed to pass constitutional muster.
Democratic incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen: “Buffer zone laws exist to protect women from harassment and intimidation as they seek medical care and in the absence of these protections, we are compromising public safety. We must be able to respect First Amendment rights while also protecting women at the same time, and I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision which will have an unnecessarily harmful impact on the safety of women seeking to receive legal reproductive healthcare.”
Republican Scott Brown, who as a Massachusetts state senator voted to pass the Massachusetts law that was just declared unconstitutional: “I supported the Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision striking down that law, I do not regret my vote. No matter how you feel about abortion, women should feel safe when they seek out and obtain medical services for themselves. Here in New Hampshire we have a similar buffer zone law. The Supreme Court has provided guidance on how to modify such a law so that it balances constitutionally protected free speech rights with the right of women to feel safe. I encourage Governor Hassan and the New Hampshire Legislature to make any necessary adjustments so that the law can remain substantially in place.” (reported by nhjournal.com)
Republican Bob Smith: “I am very pleased that the Court has ruled that the so-called “buffer zone” infringes upon the First Amendment rights of those who wish to protest against abortion. The unanimous decision of the Justices speaks volumes, as to how extreme this law was in the first place. It was a direct affront to our First Amendment freedoms and the law was originally crafted to harass pro-life people, who only wished to peacefully protest and perhaps save the life of an unborn child. Scott Brown voted for the Buffer Zone bill when he was a Massachusetts state senator. Liberal Governor, Maggie Hassan, also signed the “buffer zone” into law in New Hampshire and Senator Shaheen has long been an outspoken advocate for abortion. Once again Senator Brown finds himself aligned with the left and out of touch with the Republican Party. I am proud to announce that I am thrilled with the high court’s decision and that I am the only pro-life Republican in the race for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire and that I support the Republican Party platform 100%.” (reported by http://thedavelevineshow.ning.com/)
Republican Jim Rubens: “Restricting peaceful speech and prayer in public spaces – even about controversial subjects like abortion – is flagrantly unconstitutional. I am happy that the court recognized this unanimously.”
Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, who recently signed New Hampshire’s buffer zone law: “Women should be able to safely access health care and family planning services, and the bipartisan legislation that I signed earlier this month was narrowly tailored, with input from the law enforcement community and municipal officials, to ensure the safety and privacy of patients and the public, while also protecting the right to free speech. New Hampshire’s law is different from Massachusetts’, but we will closely review today’s decision to determine its impact, if any, on our state.”
Republican Andrew Hemingway: “This is a victory for the First Amendment. This is a victory for the right to free assembly and the right to free speech. This court unanimously put aside any political preferences on the issue of abortion and acknowledged this is simply a matter of the First Amendment–something Maggie Hassan refused to recognize in her zeal to protect abortion providers, which is one protection not covered in the Constitution. This is yet another example of Governor Hassan’s extreme ideology—trampling on the Constitution to advance her personal political agenda.”
Republican Walt Havenstein: “This is a victory for the First Amendment and I agree with the Supreme Court. The case shows how unwise it is to sign laws which infringe upon the Constitution.” (reported by nhjournal.com)
Some State Senators who voted on NH’s bill
A few state senators went public with their views on the decision.
Chief sponsor of the NH buffer zone bill, Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester): “I will carefully review today’s decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the impact, if any, on New Hampshire’s recently enacted law. I am thankful for the bipartisan work of my colleagues in the Legislature, that cautiously crafted a narrow law which is more limited than the Massachusetts’ law at issue in the decision. I continue to believe that women should be able to access critical health care services without fearing for their safety and will continue to work to ensure their safety while carefully balancing free speech rights.”
NH Journal (nhjournal.com) carried remarks from Manchester’s other two senators. Co-sponsor Lou D’Allesandro (D): “No matter how you look at it, it’s a blow. The New Hampshire law is a little different situation [from the MA law], but the basic premise is unconstitutional in nature, and that resonates. That’s the key ingredient.” From David Boutin (R), the only Manchester senator to vote against New Hampshire’s buffer zone: “The Supreme Court made the right decision. This case was about the people’s right of free speech and free assembly. The Supreme Court has validated those rights and invalidated the government’s effort to try to dampen those rights. It’s a good day for New Hampshire.”
Senator Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who led the floor debate in opposition to the buffer zone bill: “The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today affirmed the concerns raised by lawmakers, Constitutional scholars, and others over this last session with regards to New Hampshire’s buffer zone bill. In siding with the plaintiffs in this case, the Court has agreed that these buffer zone laws pose an onerous burden to the free speech rights of those who wish to educate, protest, or otherwise exercise their Constitutional rights around these facilities. As the court noted in its ruling, there are steps lawmakers can take to ensure safe and open access for patients to reproductive clinics, but in crafting those laws we must be mindful of the First Amendment rights of all of our residents.”
Note: There are other candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate who have not released any statement about the buffer zone decision. See the entire list of candidates on the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s web site.