The bill, titled an Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, was signed earlier today by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
The law, which is effective immediately, allows a police to order a person who “impedes” access to a reproductive health facility to stand at least 25 feet away from the entrance (or driveway) of the facility. The officer’s order will remain in place for eight hours or until the facility closes for the day (whichever is earlier). The law defines “impede” as making it impossible or very difficult to access the clinic. If the person does not obey the order, he or she will face criminal penalties (a fine and potential jail time). The penalties increase with each transgression. There are also penalties for threatening to harm or harming a person going to or from the facility and penalties for attempting to stop a car from accessing or leaving the facility.
The new law comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, which struck down a 2007 Massachusetts buffer zone law as violative of the First Amendment.
In a prepared statement, Governor Patrick said: “I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm.”
“This bill,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley, “takes an important step toward protecting the rights of women and public safety around reproductive health facilities. We now have new tools to help ensure access to these facilities free from intimidation and threats.”