TIME Internet

A New Viral Fundraiser: The ‘Abortion Rights’ Tacos and Beer Challenge

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Soft Chicken Tacos Getty Images

What started as a Twitter joke has turned into another social media funding movement

While it’s unclear what dumping a bucket of ice over your head has to do with ALS research, there is no question that the Ice Bucket Challenge — inspiring $53 million in donations and some 2.4 million videos posted on Facebook — has been incredibly effective and might even change the future of charitable fundraising.

And so, political reporter Andrea Grimes decided to apply this nonlinear, activity-based fundraising ideology to another cause. The directive is simple: Eat a taco or drink a beer, and then donate to any abortion rights fund — from Planned Parenthood to another local or national organization.

While the #TacoBeerChallenge started as an ironic Twitter joke, the straightforward message resonated and pictures of carne asada wrapped in a corn tortilla are proliferating on the web–though members of the pro-life movement have tried to hijack the hashtag to harness the attention for their cause.

“What do ice buckets have to do with ALS? I don’t know. What do tacos and beer have to do with abortion? I don’t know that either,” Grimes writes for RH Reality Check. “What I do know is that eating tacos and drinking beer is more pleasurable than getting doused with ice water, and that lawmakers around the country are passing increasingly restrictive anti-abortion access laws.”

Grimes continued that a first donation to an abortion fund can be hard, but, “It’s so not-shameful, in fact, that you can be the kind of regular ol’ human being who eats a taco or drinks a beer and funds abortion.”

The Taco or Beer Challenge’s Tumblr also showcases other Taco-eating related videos as well as a database of abortion-rights funds to donate to.

Here are some of the early participants:

Let’s see if Oprah, Justin Timberlake, and Jimmy Kimmel get on board with this initiative, too.

 

TIME 2014 elections

Tennessee House Race Too Close to Call

Hearing on assassination of ambassador
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "The Security Failures of Benghazi." Chris Maddaloni—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Recount all but certain as voters forgive disgraced congressman

The race for the Republican nomination for Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District turned into a story of redemption Thursday, with more voters than expected throwing their support behind disgraced Congressman Scott DesJarlais.

DesJarlais leads the primary, which will need a recount, by just 35 votes. He has 34,787 votes to State Sen. Jim Tracy’s 34,752.

Tracy, the assistant floor leader for the State Senate Caucus and chair of the State Senate Transportation Committee, challenged DesJarlias after it was revealed in decade-old divorce papers that DesJarlias had eight affairs, once threatened his wife with a gun during an argument and encouraged a pregnant mistress, who was also his patient, to get an abortion. On top of that, DesJarlais was fined $500 by the Tennessee medical board for inappropriate relations with a different patient last year.

DesJarlias, though, doubled down. Calling the scandal “old news,” he labeled his opponent an establishment insider. Republicans in the district, according to Politico, cited DesJarlias’ contrition for keeping the race competitive.

Tennessee’s other races were nowhere near as dramatic. Two-term Senator Lamar Alexander, the last GOP incumbent vulnerable to a Tea Party takedown in 2014, easily dispatched a pair of hard-right challengers. His victory marks the first year since 2008 that traditional Republicans haven’t lost one of their own in the Senate to Tea Party challengers.

And in Tennessee’s majority black ninth district, white Jewish Rep. Steve Cohen easily fended off an African-American primary challenger—his fifth in as many primaries—to advance to what will almost certainly be a fifth term in the heavily Democratic district.

TIME gender equality

France Eases Abortion Restrictions in Sweeping Equality Law

France's Women, Youth and Sports Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem arrives to attend a dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris May 5, 2014.
France's Women, Youth and Sports Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem arrives to attend a dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris May 5, 2014. Gonzalo Fuentes—Reuters

Called "historic" step in gender equality push

France passed legislation this week allowing women to get abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with no questions asked, lifting previous restrictions as part of a sweeping and historic law meant to increase gender equality in the country.

Previously, a French woman could only get an abortion if her condition put “her in a situation of distress.” The new law, signed Tuesday by French President François Hollande, also ensures women can access information about obtaining abortions, Reuters reports. The legislation provides protections for domestic abuse victims and supports more equal division of childcare and representation in politics. And it strives to creates a more equal job environment by encouraging men to take paternity leaves.

“At a time when women in many parts of the world, including in the United States and Spain, are seeing their rights restricted, violated, and disrespected, France has set an important example for the rest of the globe with its progressive stance toward reproductive health care,” Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Ensuring a woman’s right to control her fertility is fundamental to achieving gender equality. But passing today’s law is just the first step—we now look to French policymakers to ensure women see the benefits of this historic law implemented this year.”

When the law was initially introduced, France’s minister for women’s rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told the Guardian: “I don’t believe that history is going to spontaneously take us forward, so going towards more equality needs us to be politically proactive.”

[Reuters]

TIME abortion

Alabama Judge Rules Abortion Clinic Law Unconstitutional

Just a few days after a court in Mississippi struck down a similar law

An Alabama judge ruled Monday that a law requiring doctors who perform abortions in the state’s five clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is unconstitutional, as it imposes an “impermissible undue burden” that amounts to total prohibition of abortions.

“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics,” U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson wrote in his decision. “Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

Supporters of the law, called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act” in Alabama, say abortion doctors need to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case a patient has medical complications after an abortion. “By striking down the Alabama law that required abortionists to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson is propping up incompetent, dangerous abortionists at the expense of the health and safety of the women in Alabama,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement. “It is a basic necessity to ensure the safety of women who are seeking abortions and to make sure their doctors are following standard medical procedures. To do anything otherwise would be to the detriment of women in the state.”

But the judge agreed with the plaintiffs, who were represented by lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, that these laws have no basis in medicine—they’re opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—and make obtaining an abortion unnecessarily difficult. “This ruling will ensure that women in Alabama have access to safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “And Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for our patients, because a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions should not depend on where she lives.”

The 5th Circuit of Appeals struck down a similar law in Mississippi last week. “Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote in his ruling, adding that the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders.” That court could only declare the law unconstitutional as it applies to Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, and could not strike down the entire law, because it had been upheld by a 5th Circuit court in Texas.

 

TIME politics

Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand What It’s Like to Be a Woman in This Country

Planned Parenthood On Commonwealth Avenue
Self-described "Right to Lifer" Ray Neary stands behind the yellow line as he protests outside of a Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Mass. on June 26, 2014. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Without a buffer zone, protesters' expression of free speech outside of healthcare centers has included chaining themselves to medical equipment and blocking access to healthcare centers.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a protected zone around healthcare centers providing abortion. We at Planned Parenthood are disappointed with the Court’s ruling, which shows that far too many people — including far too many powerful people — don’t understand what it is like to be a woman in this country who simply wants to make her own healthcare decisions in private without harassment or intimidation.

Indeed, this is a ruling against the safety of women receiving basic health care. It is a ruling against the protection of staff workers trying to get to their job without being screamed at and facing the threat of violence. Though this type of threatening behavior is rare outside reproductive health centers, when it does happen it is frightening — and that is why patient protection zones are so important.

Despite this discouraging decision, Planned Parenthood will continue safeguarding our patients. The good news is that many patient protection laws across the country remain intact. Our patients and staff will continue to be shielded by the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. In Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood is working with the governor, the attorney general’s office and local law enforcement to ensure that, in spite of this ruling, the privacy and safety of every patient accessing health care and every staff member doing his or her job will remain safe — no matter what.

With all due respect to the Justices, they have erred in invalidating the buffer zone as an impermissible regulation of speech. Protesters always have had ample opportunities to express their opinions directly to patients and staff. And the Court also distorted reality when it focused on supposed “caring” conversations from protesters.

In Massachusetts, before the buffer zone law was enacted, patients and staff were often subjected to intense and aggressive harassment. Planned Parenthood in particular was routinely singled out by protesters who went beyond expressing themselves through conversation. They disrupted the operation of health centers by chaining themselves to medical equipment. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway of our healthcare centers, blocking access for our patients and staff. They screamed directly into the ears of patients, jarring them at a sensitive moment — when they were en route to a private medical appointment.

This volatile, unsafe environment in Massachusetts paved the way for tragedy. In 1994, a man barged into the Planned Parenthood health center in Brookline and opened fire, murdering one staff member and injuring three others. He then went to another nearby health center, murdering another staff member and wounding two others.

When the law was enacted, it was instantly clear that it worked. The atmosphere outside Planned Parenthood health centers became transformed to one of peaceful coexistence. Speech was never prevented outside healthcare centers. The only restriction protesters faced was to stand 35 feet away from the entrance of a healthcare center. Thirty-five feet is roughly the length of a school bus. When someone screams “Murderer!” from a distance of 35 feet, you hear the message loud and clear.

In short, the Massachusetts buffer zone law defused tensions and reduced violence because it struck the appropriate balance between preserving free speech rights and protecting public safety. It has proven to be an effective and balanced solution.

Americans are accustomed to buffer zones. They are erected outside Election Day polling places to protect voters. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has its own buffer zone to protect the safety and dignity of the Court, but the Court was silent on its own buffer zone in this decision. Apparently, women and staff do not deserve the same protection.

With or without a buffer zone, Planned Parenthood will work to keep our patients safe. One tool has been taken from us, but we have others at our disposal. We will ensure our patients can continue to make carefully considered, private medical decisions, without running a gauntlet of harassing and threatening protesters.

This decision is not the end of the story. At Planned Parenthood we continue forward in our relentless commitment to enable women to make their own healthcare decisions without fear, judgment or intimidation — and that will never change.

Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

 

TIME Law

A Supreme Court Guide for Where to Stand When Protesting

A Supreme Court ruling raises questions about what's allowed, and what's not

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Massachusetts law mandating a 35-foot “buffer zone” around abortion clinics is unconstitutional because it limited speech on sidewalks and other “public fora.”

But in dozens of other decisions over the last 30 years, the court has held that buffer zones can be constitutional. Even if they’re outside medical facilities. And even if they encroach on public fora. So what gives? How’s a protester supposed to know where it’s constitutional to protest and where it’s not?

Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide on when and where (constitutional!) buffer zones still apply:

Outside some local abortion clinics…

Justices Question Mass. Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
A yellow line is painted on the sidewalk and pavement surrounding Planned Parenthood Clinics at 1055 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, Jan. 15, 2014. David L. Ryan—Boston Globe/Getty Images

While the court’s decision Thursday will almost definitely lead to legal challenges to existing buffer zone laws, cities and counties from San Francisco to Pittsburgh to Buffalo will probably keep them on the books. Because many of these local laws are narrowly written and target specific clinics or medical facilities, they may not be affected by today’s ruling, in which the justices primarily objected to the broadness of the Massachusetts law—the only state-level statute in the country. In Portland, for instance, protesters cannot come within 39-feet of the entrance to one specific Planned Parenthood building.

Outside hospitals and other medical facilities

HEALTHONE NORTH SUBURBAN MEDICAL CENTER
HealthONE & North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton, Colo. PR Newswire/AP

In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law mandating a 100-foot buffer zone around the entrance of a “health care facility.” The law also banned protesters from “knowingly approach[ing] within 8 feet of another person” in order to hand her a leaflet or handbill, or “engage in oral protest.” This is an interesting case because it’s very similar to the case that the court decided today, and the justices came to the opposite conclusion, and yet they did not overrule it. Why? It’s not entirely clear. The legal differences between the two cases have legal scholars scratching their heads.

On or Near Military Bases…

Memorial Held At Ft. Hood For Victims Of Last Week's Shooting
U.S. Army soldiers salute during the national anthem at Fort Hood military base in Killen, Texas on April 9, 2014. Erich Schlegel—Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that it was perfectly legal to shoo an anti-war protester away from a military base in California that he’d already been kicked out of once. It didn’t matter, the justices said, if the protester stood within a clearly marked “designated protest area.” In that case, the court decided on statutory grounds that all the land owned by the Air Force was considered “the base,” and the protester had been kicked off “the base.” So even though the protester now wanted to stand within an easement designed for public protest, he was out of luck. The court left the question of whether that violated the First Amendment to the lower court.

At Military Funerals…

Last Trip Home: Family Mourns Soldier Killed In Friendly Fire Incident In Afghanistan
Soldiers carry the casket of U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen from Parkview Christian Church following his funeral service on June 24, 2014 in Mokena, Ill. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The Supreme Court decided in 2011 that the Westboro Baptist Church was allowed to protest military funerals on the grounds that “even hurtful speech” got First Amendment protections. The court, however, gave legislatures explicit permission to pass buffer zone laws restricting people from protesting outside cemeteries and funeral homes. At least 41 states took them up on the offer, and last year, U.S. Congress passed a sweeping law on veterans’ rights, one part of which prevented demonstrators from picketing a military funeral within two hours before or after the service, and from coming within 300 feet of grieving family members.

Outside Places of Worship…

Church
United Methodist church, Massachusetts. John Humble—Getty Images

While there hasn’t been a Supreme Court case on the matter, many states have laws on the books restricting protestors from getting too close to all kinds of religious sanctuaries, including mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples. Those buffer zones range in size from a few feet to shouting-distance.

At Polling Places…

DC voters head to the polls in the Democratic Primary for mayor
Democratic voters wait in line at the Eastern Market polling place to vote in the Democratic primary for the District’s mayor race in Washington, April 1, 2014. The Washington Post/Getty Images

In 1991, the Supreme Court upheld a Tennessee law restricting protesters, campaign staff or others from coming within 100 feet of the entrances to polling stations to solicit votes or display campaign material. In that controversial 5-3 decision, the court found that since the Tennessee law didn’t block out political messages entirely—just within a narrow buffer zone—it passed muster under the First Amendment.

When the President is Nearby…

Barack Obama, William M. Knight
President Barack Obama returns a salute from Col. William M. Knight as he steps off of Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, Md, May 9, 2014. Carolyn Kaster—AP

At a campaign event in Oregon in 2004, President George W. Bush’s Secret Service agents forced anti-Bush demonstrators, who had gathered on a public sidewalk, to stand farther way; however, they did not move a group of pro-Bush demonstrators—much to the chagrin of the American Civil Liberties Union, which took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Just last month, the justices decided that the lawsuit could not go forward because the agents themselves could not be held liable. That anti-climactic decision left open the question of what rights protesters have in demanding proximity to the president.

At Political Conventions…

US Campaign 2012
President Barack Obama onstage at the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C. Charles Ommanney—Getty Images

Every four years, the Republicans and Democrats hold their big, glitzy conventions and every year, hordes of protestors are herded around by police, prevented from coming within a few hundred feet of the entrances, and otherwise treated like chopped liver. In light of today’s court decision, do those impromptu buffer zones violate protesters’ First Amendment rights? Erwin Chemerinsky, a top lawyer on matters of free speech, calls that “a really interesting question,” but concedes that “we just don’t know yet.” Challenges to those laws have never made it to the Supreme Court.

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court itself…

Treasury Secretary Lew Speaks At Making Home Affordable 5th Anniversary Summit
Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Last year, the Supreme Court issued a new regulation banning demonstrators from doing their thing on the marble plaza in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. The new regulation was in response to a federal judge’s decision last year that a previous regulation barring protests on the plaza was unconstitutional. He cited previous Supreme Court rulings that laws barring demonstrations on court property are unconstitutional, but the court’s marshal says the new regulation is necessary in order to ensure “unimpeded ingress and egress of visitors to the court” and maintain the appearance that SCOTUS is a “body not swayed by external influence.”

TIME abortion

Why Abortion Clinic Protestors May Not Matter

Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2014 in Washington.
Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2014 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Gauging the impact of a new Supreme Court ruling is difficult

Are they allowed to do this? Are they going to hurt me? Will they be here when I’m done?

Michelle Kinsey Bruns is used to being asked these questions when she volunteers as an abortion clinic escort. Women seeking abortions at clinics across the country often must pass by protestors carrying signs, pamphlets and sometimes even megaphones. In response, many clinics employ or seek volunteers like Bruns to usher women seeking abortions through the gauntlet.

In an effort to further shield women from protestors, Massachusetts enacted a law in 2007 that created a 35-foot buffer zone outside clinics and barred anti-abortion activists from entering it. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down that law Thursday, saying it violated the First Amendment rights of protestors. In effect, the ruling means that women in Massachusetts and across the country are likely to have more contact with anti-abortion protestors in the future. What’s not clear, however, is if more contact—regardless of proximity to patients—will have an impact beyond upsetting women. In short, do protestors actually dissuade women from terminating pregnancies?

It’s hard to say. Academics who study the effects of anti-abortion protestors on women’s decision-making say it’s difficult to collect data on women who may change their minds as a result of protestors. These women may never have contact with abortion providers or researchers studying the topic. But on a related subject—the effect of protestors on women’s states of mind—there is more data.

A 2013 study published in the journal Contraception found that protestors affect the emotional state of women entering abortion clinics. The study, by researchers at the Bixby Center for Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, included interviews with almost 1,000 women who had abortions and were asked whether contact with protestors affected them emotionally. Of the women who saw protestors outside clinics, 41% reported feeling upset because of it. In addition, the more contact women had with protestors, the more upset they felt. But asked if the protestors impacted their feelings about actually having abortions, the women reported their feelings were the same regardless.

“Protestors are upsetting, but they don’t have an effect on women’s long-term feelings about their abortions,” says Dianna Greene Foster, the study’s lead author. “A woman’s reasons for having an abortion are much more salient than the brief yelling or talking from protestors.” Earlier academic research reached the same conclusion.

In the absence of hard data, anecdotal evidence suggests that some women arrive at abortion clinics and opt not to enter due to the presence of protestors. Anti-abortion protestors routinely claim they talk women out of terminating pregnancies. “I can’t refute that,” says Tammi Kromenaker, executive director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota.

Kromenaker has security cameras outside her facility and has seen, on monitors set up inside, some women turn back while protestors are crowding the sidewalk outside. “I know there have been women intimidated out of coming into the building. I see them leave and I see the protestors hug each other,” Kromenaker says. But sometimes, she adds, “that woman calls us the next day and says, ‘Can I reschedule for next week?’” On the flip side, Kromenaker says, “If somebody you don’t know outside a clinic made you change your mind, then good, you didn’t want an abortion in the first place.”

In a brief filed on behalf of anti-abortion protestors who initiated the Massachusetts buffer zone case, the lead petitioner, Eleanor McCullen, is described as a grandmother in her 70s “who aims to stand on public sidewalks near abortion clinics in order to reach this unique audience, at a unique moment, in a compassionate and non-confrontational way.”

While the behavior of anti-abortion protestors at clinics varies widely, clinic owners and volunteers who escort patients inside say confrontation is common. A protestor at Kromenaker’s clinic once followed a patient inside and only left after Kromenaker threatened him with a stun gun. (He was subsequently arrested for trespassing and ordered to stay at least 50 ft. away from the clinic.) Renee Bracey Sherman, a graduate student who volunteers as an escort at abortion clinics in Washington, D.C., and Hagerstown, Md., says women seeking abortions are often visibly unnerved by shouts from protestors. “I know there’s a discussion about them counseling people, however, I’ve never seen someone counsel. They yell, they say very horrendous things. It’s never actually, ‘Hey, let’s just talk about your options,’” Sherman says. “I’ve seen patients going into the clinics crying, just terrified.”

Bruns, who writes the Twitter feed @ClinicEscort, which has more than 15,000 followers, has volunteered as an escort for five years in clinics in eight states. “The fact of the matter is that anti-choice rhetoric is deeply embedded in the American mind—that abortion is a horrible, brutal thing that’s dangerous,” Bruns says. “And women turn up anyway. When they see a crowd of protestors shouting with video cameras, it gives them a moment’s pause, but they keep coming. They may cry, but they have already make their decision.”

As the Supreme Court ruling makes clear, however, making someone cry is not illegal. Abortion is a constitutionally protected right, and so is saying it’s morally wrong, even if you say it loudly—so long as you are standing on a public sidewalk.

TIME

My Wife’s Abortion vs. Your Free Speech

I still remember the harassment the day we visited a clinic four years ago. By ruling the 35-ft. buffer zone unconstitutional, the Supreme Court is putting people in danger

Planned Parenthood Clinic Will Open After Court Battle
A truck covered with anti-abortion messages is used to protest the opening of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Ill., on Oct. 2, 2007. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Thirty-five feet.

It’s a little more than half the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound on a baseball diamond. It’s slightly longer than the length of two Cadillac Escalades. It’s 5 ft. shorter than a standard telephone pole.

And until today, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the buffer zone unconstitutional because it allegedly infringed on free-speech rights, it was the distance anti-choice protesters were forced to stay away from people entering abortion clinics in Massachusetts.

“That’s a lot of space.”

That’s how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan described the 35 ft. during oral arguments in January. And I guess it is a lot of space—depending on your perspective. For Justice Kagan, 35 ft. on a tape measure might seem like a lot. But I have a slightly different perspective, one that is far more personal and relevant to this particular issue.

In 2010, my wife and I went to a Brookline, Mass., abortion clinic after a team of renowned Boston doctors diagnosed our 16-week-old unborn baby with Sirenomelia. Our baby’s legs were fused together, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The baby had no kidneys, no bladder and no anus. We were given the heartbreaking news that there was a 0% chance of a live birth.

Because my wife’s health wasn’t in immediate danger, the hospital couldn’t get her in for a termination for two weeks. However, that meant it’d be a 50/50 chance of being able to have an abortion or having to deliver a stillborn. After much soul searching and contemplating a no-win scenario, my wife decided a stillbirth was more than she could handle and so the hospital sent us to a recommended clinic to perform an abortion.

When we pulled into the parking lot and got out of our car, the saddest day of our lives got exponentially worse.

Two women, 35 ft. away, were standing across the street holding signs. When they saw us, they immediately started yelling things like “Don’t do it!” and “You’re killing your unborn baby!” I couldn’t have been more horrified. I couldn’t believe how these people would willingly stand outside and harass others at their weakest and most vulnerable. I couldn’t mask my anger, nor could my wife hold back her tears at being unnecessarily and unfairly vilified.

But you know what I could do? I could hear them.

I heard them exercising their First Amendment rights from across the street. I heard them over the din of passing traffic. I heard them from 35 ft. away. Loud and clear.

Those protesters made every use of their right to free speech. Even with a 35-ft. buffer zone, they delivered their message of shame and guilt with ease. In fact, the only thing that was restricted that day was my wife’s ability to walk into a medical facility free from harassment.

And ironically, when I went out to videotape a conversation with them after my wife was in surgery to challenge them in a nonviolent manner, it was the protesters who threatened to call the police and have me removed.

So, Justice Kagan, with all due respect, 35 ft. is not a lot of space when you’re shouting insults at strangers and judging them absent any facts. What it does do, however, is put some very important space between emotionally volatile people enduring copious amounts of heartbreak and those who seek to shame them. Space that could be the only thing preventing physical altercations and scuffles. (The Brookline clinic is where John Salvi shot and killed two Planned Parenthood workers in 1994.)

Had SCOTUS upheld the constitutionality of the buffer zone it would’ve preserved the free speech of the protesters while ensuring women have unobstructed access to the buildings that house their reproductive-health specialists. But without that separation, I worry how often and to what degree future conflicts will escalate.

Too much space? With all due respect, Justice Kagan, 35 ft. wasn’t nearly enough to block out the horror and insults while running the gauntlet that day at the hands of those whose free speech you seek to protect.

Even after 35 ft. and four years later, my wife and I still hear them.

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Abortion ‘Buffer Zones’ Violate Freedom of Speech

Anti-abortion protestors hold up signs as they celebrate U.S. Supreme Court ruling against protective buffer zones around abortion clinics, outside the Court in Washington
Anti-abortion protestors celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling striking down a Massachusetts law that mandated a protective buffer zone around abortion clinics, outside the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2014. Jim Bourg—Reuters

The ruling is a victory for protesters who seek to picket outside of abortion clinics

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that putting up “buffer zones” around abortion clinics is a violation of the First Amendment.

The decision, which reversed a lower court ruling, found that a Massachusetts law that imposes a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics puts an unconstitutional limitation on protesters’ freedom of speech. Written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the unanimous decision in McCullen v. Coakley is an immediate victory for pro-life groups, which have fought hard for the right to protest outside of abortion clinics, and a loss for some pro-choice groups that sought to provide blanket protections for people attempting to enter and leave such facilities.

First Amendment purists on both sides of the ideological divide will also likely count the decision as an unadulterated “win” as it calls into question the constitutionality of other buffer zones, as well as other blanket restrictions on protesters’ movements.

The court objected to the notion of buffer zones in part because such broad perimeters “burden more speech than necessary” by excluding “petitioners” (“not just protesters”) from public sidewalks, streets, and other public thoroughfares, “places that have traditionally been open for speech ac­tivities and that the Court has accordingly labeled ‘traditional public fora.’”

Buffers zones deprive petitioners “of their two primary methods of com­municating with arriving patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. Those forms of expression have historically been closely associated with the transmission of ideas,” the court wrote.

But the decision hardly creates a “free-for-all” for protesters outside abortion clinics or anywhere else. The court left open the possibility that states can pass specific, “narrower” laws designed to protect people entering and leaving abortion clinics, or to ensure the safety of the crowd or others. For example, states can pass laws allowing police offers to force protesters to create an aisle through which a patient or doctor can pass.

The decision also left open the possibility that a state could pass a law entirely banning protests at abortion clinics—but only if it demonstrated that narrower measures had not worked, and that patients and employees were being illegally prevented from accessing a legal establishment.

“[E]ven in a public forum. . . the government may impose reasonable re­strictions on the time, place, or manner of protected speech, provided the restrictions ‘are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a signifi­cant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alterna­tive channels for communication of the information,’” the court held.

This is the most significant decision related to abortion politics since 2007, when the court upheld a ban on some late-term abortions.

The Supreme Court will meet again on Monday for its last day of the term, when it’s expected to hand down two more hotly anticipated decisions—one on the Hobby Lobby case addressing the Obamacare contraception mandate and the other, Harris v. Quinn, on public sector unions.

TIME Religion

What It Really Means for Pope Francis to Excommunicate the Mob

Italy Pope
Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in Sibari, southern Italy on June 21, 2014. Alessandra Tarantino—AP

Why the Pope took sides against the Family

Pope Francis used the e-word against the mob for the first time this weekend.

The Holy Father was celebrating mass on Saturday in Calabria, a mob-heavy region in southern Italy, when he deviated from his prepared remarks and announced that the mafia are excommunicated. “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he said. The thousands who had gathered underneath the hot sun cheered.

Calabria is home to the ‘Ndrangheta, a global drug trafficking syndicate. Reports suggest that the group turns over $72 billion per year in the cocaine trade and uses that wealth to entice young people in the region—where the unemployment rate is 50% or higher—to work for it. Last week Pope Francis also reaffirmed his position against recreational drug use and the drug trade.

Francis has condemned corporate financial sins throughout his papacy, particularly for their socio-economic consequences. His pronouncement on Saturday yet again shows how seriously he takes those consequences.

“When adoration of the Lord is substituted by adoration of money, the road to sin opens to personal interest…Your land, which so beautiful, knows the signs of the consequences of this sin,” Francis explained. “The ‘ndrangheta is this: adoration of evil and contempt of the common good. This evil must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no.”

Pope Francis’ pronouncement was the strongest censure of the mafia so far in his papacy, or in any of his predecessors’ papacies. Excommunication does not mean that a person is banned from the church, but it is a public recognition by church authorities that a person is no longer part of the Catholic community. Technically excommunication means the excommunicated party has chosen to separate him or herself from the church through their own un-Catholic choices. The Pope doesn’t excommunicate, but people excommunicate themselves by their behavior. Excommunication also does not mean a person is denied from heaven and the afterlife (that’s “anathema”)—one’s baptism is still effectual, meaning it still carries its sacramental worth.

Excommunication is usually reserved for grave offenses, and some sins incur automatic excommunication. These traditionally include abortion (the woman who has it and all accomplices), apostasy (total repudiation of Christian faith), heresy (obstinate denial of doctrine), schism (refusing to submit to the Pope and church community), violating the sacred species (throwing away/desecrating elements of Eucharist), physically attacking the pope, consecrating a bishop without Vatican’s authorization, sacramentally absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin, and violating the seal of confession.

Francis is building on a theme of his papacy that financial behavior deserves equal scrutiny and attention as often-hyped sexual sins. Often people think of excommunication as a consequence for an individual, but the Pope’s words were a reminder that communities can sin too—and that a group’s financial behavior affect society as a whole, sometimes violently. Love of money and violent or dishonest behavior are right up there with abortion in his mind. It is another reason Francis has also been working to reform the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works, and that he has condemned the “idolatry of money” and unfettered capitalism as a “new tyranny.”

Life together, Pope Francis is reminding the world, is at the core of the Catholic message. That’s why excommunication means something. When someone is excommunicated, they are ex-communion, out of communion, and they cannot participate in the sacrament of Eucharist, a public action by a group of people setting themselves apart for the Christian life.

Will priests start denying members of the mafia the bread and wine? That remains to be seen, and it would likely be a risky decision. Francis appears unabashed. He’s preaching a bigger message: reconciliation and societal change. Even excommunication is not the end of relationship with the church. The same day, Pope Francis reminded a group of prisoners that God always forgives, meaning that reunion is always possible. “The Lord is a master at rehabilitation,” he said. “He takes us by the hand and brings us back into the social community. The Lord always forgives, always accompanies, always understands; it is up to us to let ourselves be understood, forgiven and accompanied.”

Whether the mafia listens to that message is another matter.

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