Networks: Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Protect Women From 'Violent' and 'Offensive' Pro-Life Protests

June 27th, 2014 4:31 PM

Despite Thursday's unanimous Supreme Court ruling that so-called "buffer zones" banning pro-life protests near abortion clinics was a violation of the First Amendment, all three network evening newscasts hyped assertions by abortion advocates that such unconstitutional measures "prevent violence at clinic entrances." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

On NBC Nightly News, correspondent Pete Williams began his report on the high court's decision by proclaiming: "Massachusetts was trying to avoid scenes like this – patients at abortion clinics confronted and hassled, sometimes even violence." Footage ran of pro-life protesters being held back by police barricades and one unidentified man shouting: "They're lying to you and they're gonna kill your baby!"

Reporting for ABC's World News, correspondent Terry Moran similarly fretted over the law being struck down: "Massachusetts officials had argued they needed the buffer zone because of this – raucous offensive protests outside clinics that threaten public safety and could effectively block women's access to health care."

CBS Evening News at least had the good sense to have an abortion activist utter such talking points, rather have a journalist parrot them. Correspondent Jan Crawford spoke to NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue, who ranted: "Today's Supreme Court decision makes lives of women accessing health care and doctors much more at was [as] though they have missed the entire harassment, intimidation, and even violence that this movement, this anti-choice movement, is known for."

Amazing how the declarations by Williams and Moran were identical to NARAL spin.

NBC was unique in that it also worked in an argument from Planned Parenthood, when Williams noted: "Women's groups say the same Supreme Court that denied them a buffer zone has a big one of its own, no protest on the plaza in front of the court building."

On Friday, NBC's Today featured a full story on the ruling, while ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning only provided news briefs on the topic. Co-host Matt Lauer introduced the report by announcing: "Women's groups are figuring out new ways to shield patients who are walking into abortion clinics..."

Williams wrapped up the morning show segment by again touting: "The Supreme Court allows protest on the sidewalk in front of the court building but bans it on the large marble plaza in front. Planned Parenthood says that means the same court that denied them a buffer zone has one of its own."

All the network coverage did feature soundbites of pro-life supporters of the Court's decision and quotes from the ruling itself. However, at no point was the actual practice of abortion described as "offensive" or being an act of "violence."

Here are full transcripts of the June 26 coverage on the network evening newscasts:

NBC Nightly News
7:04 PM ET

WILLIAMS: In other news tonight, this story out of Washington, where the Supreme Court today struck down one of the toughest laws in the country intended to limit protests at abortion clinics. This case involved painted lines on the sidewalk in Massachusetts and how far protesters would have to stand back. Today's ruling will affect similar laws in other states and opponents of abortion are calling it a big victory.

Our justice correspondent Pete Williams at the Supreme Court tonight. Pete, good evening.

PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, good evening. This court is deeply divided on the issue of abortion, but it was unanimous today in declaring that Massachusetts went too far in trying to prevent violence at clinic entrances.

Massachusetts was trying to avoid scenes like this...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [ABORTION PROTESTER]: They're lying to you and they're gonna kill your baby!

WILLIAMS: ...patients at abortion clinics confronted and hassled, sometimes even violence. So the state passed a law painting a line on the sidewalk thirty-five feet from clinic entrances. Inside that line, no protest. But the Court ruled in favor of Eleanor McCullen, a 77-year-old grandmother, and others who said the no-protest zones violated their free speech right to try to calmly suggest alternatives to abortion.

ELEANOR MCCULLEN: When they need somebody to care for them and I care, I truly care, but then when we get to the buffer zone, I have to stop and then they keep going and I lose.

WILLIAMS: Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "A painted line on the sidewalk is easy to enforce, but the prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency." The sidewalk, the Court said, is one of the few places left where people with a message can be confident they're not just preaching to the choir.

MARK RIENZI [LAWYER FOR CHALLENGERS]: What Massachusetts can't do is simply round everybody up and haul them off to jail if they're speaking close to an abortion clinic.

WILLIAMS: At a minimum, today's ruling probably dooms similar no-protest zones in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Pittsburgh, Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont.

MARTHA COAKLEY [MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL]: And we're going to provide as many protections as we can for staff, for patients, for the women in Massachusetts who are trying to exercise their constitutional rights.

WILLIAMS: Women's groups say the same Supreme Court that denied them a buffer zone has a big one of its own, no protest on the plaza in front of the court building.

Today's decision does not address other limits that states have tried, like floating bubble zones, no-approach zones that move with a patient entering a clinic, but it casts a legal cloud over them.

The Court today all but killed the President's power to appoint people to government jobs when the Senate is in recess. In modern times, when the Senate is controlled by the opposing party, it convenes briefly every three days during breaks. The Court said today a recess has to last at least ten days before the President can use that power. So that means the Senate can block recess appointments whenever it wants.

Monday will be the last day for decisions. We'll get the big case on the – ObamaCare's requirement for contraceptive coverage. Brian.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Alright, Pete Williams at the Supreme Court for us again tonight. Pete, thanks.

World News
6:36 PM ET

DAVID MUIR: We move on now to that landmark ruling tonight from the Supreme Court on abortion and on the right to demonstrate. The justices all standing together, a unanimous decision when it comes to that buffer zone between protesters and the women they're trying to send a message to. Deciding that there doesn't need to be a buffer zone. ABC's Terry Moran, who has covered the courts for years, is at the Supreme Court tonight.

TERRY MORAN: Americans opposed to abortion are allowed to pray and protest outside abortion clinics.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Supreme Decision; Free Speech or Harassment??]


MORAN: But in Massachusetts, they've got to do it behind a yellow line, like this one on the ground there, because of a 2007 law that drew a thirty-five foot buffer zone, inside of which any kind of prayer, protest or even conversation about abortion was effectively forbidden.

Today, the Supreme Court unanimously said Massachusetts went to far. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was joined by the Court's liberals, including the three women justices, wrote, "The buffer zones impose serious burdens on speech."

Massachusetts officials had argued they needed the buffer zone because of this – raucous offensive protests outside clinics that threaten public safety and could effectively block women's access to health care. But Chief Justice Roberts wrote there are already laws on the books to deal with true public safety issues and officials needed to find other ways to keep public order.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said today's ruling would harm women.

MARTHA COAKLEY: And now we are putting additional stresses on women who are really just trying to get health care.

MORAN: But Justice Antonin Scalia rejected that notion, writing, "Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function the First Amendment allows government to undertake." A win for free speech.

Another big ruling here today. President Obama losing in this court on whether he or any President has the power to make high-level appointments when only a few senators are in session or does he have to wait for the full Senate to confirm his nominees. The President trying to bypass partisan gridlock. But today the Court unanimously, again, saying no, no president has that power. David.

MUIR: Alright, ABC's Terry Moran who knows the Court so well. Terry, thank you.

CBS Evening News
6:31 PM ET

PELLEY: The Supreme Court was unanimous in a pair of rulings today, one on the rights of protesters, the other on presidential authority. In the first case, the justices struck down a Massachusetts law that prevented anti-abortion activists from getting anywhere near the entrances of clinics. Jan Crawford is covering the Court.


JAN CRAWFORD: Massachusetts said the law was necessary to protect women as they entered clinics for abortions. It requires protesters to keep their distance, off public sidewalks within thirty-five feet of clinic entrances. But the law also kept away people like Eleanor McCullen, a Massachusetts grandmother who quietly counsels women against abortion and said the law violated her right to free speech.

The justices unanimously agreed, striking down the Massachusetts law and calling into question similar laws across the country. In a majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the four liberal justices...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [ABORTION PROTESTER]: It's never too late to change your mind.

CRAWFORD: ...the Court referred to America's historical traditions of protest enshrined in the First Amendment, which includes speech some people may not want to hear. "Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks, sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history."

Abortion rights groups were taken back by the decision. Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

ILYSE HOGUE: Today's Supreme Court decision makes lives of women accessing health care and doctors much more at risk.

CRAWFORD: More at risk?

HOGUE: More at risk. The way the decision was written, it was [as] though they have missed the entire harassment, intimidation, and even violence that this movement, this anti-choice movement, is known for.

CRAWFORD: But Matt Bowman, whose group Alliance Defending Freedom sided with the plaintiff Eleanor McCullen, said it was a long overdue victory for the anti-abortion rights movement.

MATT BOWMAN: These are peaceful people who are just quietly trying to share information on the public sidewalk, and that's the kind of speech that the First Amendment was designed to protect.

CRAWFORD: Now, for protesters who aren't peaceful, the Court said there are other ways that Massachusetts can protect women's safety at abortion clinics, like federal and local laws that prohibit harassment and violence, without, Scott, sweeping in innocent people and their speech.

PELLEY: Jan, thanks very much.