BOSTON (AP) — Police now have increased authority to break up crowds gathering around Massachusetts abortion clinic entrances under a bill the governor signed on Wednesday.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s signing comes a little more than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that established a protest-free 35-foot “buffer zone” around clinic entrances.
Patrick praised lawmakers for moving swiftly to craft a bill and said “women get to choose what to do about an unwanted pregnancy.”
The new law allows police to disperse protesters who are substantially impeding access to a clinic. Those individuals must stay at least 25 feet from the clinic’s entrances for up to eight hours. Failure to abide by a dispersal order will be considered a misdemeanor.
The House and Senate had given final approval to the measure on Tuesday. Abortion opponents have said they would sue again if the bill became law.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, who supported the original 35-foot buffer zone law, said the new law protects the rights of protesters and women seeking health services.
State Sen. Harriette Chandler, the bill’s sponsor, said the new law “is not a second buffer zone.”
“I think it will stand up to constitutional muster,” the Worcester Democrat said.
Under the new law, protesters who try to block cars from entering or leaving a clinic parking lot will also face a misdemeanor charge.
The law also adopts a state version of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars the use of force or the threat of force directed at an individual trying to enter or leave a reproductive health facility. That behavior could be classified as a misdemeanor or felony.
The new law also expands the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act to let the attorney general seek damages in court.