‘Bubble zone’ ordinance serves valid need

Chicago’s controversial “bubble zone” ordinance is under attack by the Pro-Life Action League and the Live Pro Life Group, as reported Aug. 23 by The Chicago Tribune. The groups often protest in front of abortion clinics and sued the city to invalidate the law they say is unconstitutional. 

The law allows patients visiting medical facilities an 8-foot “bubble” of space between them and protesters once they are 50 feet from the entrance. The plaintiffs claim this violates freedom of speech and prevents them from providing “sidewalk counsel” to those heading to family planning clinics.

Chicago’s ordinance is based directly on a similarly written Colorado law held constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2000, which provides for a fixed 100-foot zone and a floating 8-foot zone that acts as the bubble. 

The Chicago law could be in danger of being overturned following  a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a Massachusetts buffer zone law. In that decision, late Justice Antonin Scalia argued laws such as Colorado’s are designed to prohibit a particular type of speech, which would make them unconstitutional. He invited the Court to overrule that precedent, and the Chicago lawsuit is a vehicle to do just that.

It is imperative the Chicago law be upheld to keep patients safe from overzealous protesters and harmful pseudo-counseling. 

According to a 2012 study published by the University of California at San Francisco, women who encounter protesters before their abortions experience more immediate negative emotions, such as guilt and regret, than those who don’t. Abortion is already a difficult medical decision to make without the extra stress of activists overstepping personal space boundaries.

While abortion is a safe and legal procedure, women already have many obstacles obtaining them, including unnecessary ultrasounds and waiting periods. There should be universal respect for those who make the decision and their emotional process. It is not merely a hassle for a woman planning to have an abortion to be confronted by these pro-life groups but emotionally damaging and overwhelming.

Pro-life groups like the League often train their “counselors” to  use emotionally distressing and guilt-inducing language and images that aren’t always scientifically and medically accurate. There are even seminars where potential counselors can learn tactics and pro-life rhetoric used to dissuade patients, like those provided by the Life Training Institute. Freedom of speech gives them the right to spread these messages, but those who would be disturbed or bothered should not be forced to listen. This is difficult to do when protesters get overly passionate and aggressive about their mission, making this bubble zone useful to keep their messages at a safe, yet constitutional distance. 

Some facilities, like Planned Parenthood, provide escort services to help guide patients through crowds into the facility, but the burden of providing these services should not be on the clinics, especially because not all are able to afford or recruit volunteers as escorts. 

Instead, this bubble zone ordinance must be upheld because patients’ privacy and medical decisions should be respected at all medical offices and hospitals, with extra care going toward ones as difficult to go to as abortion clinics. Considering cases of family planning clinics being attacked, like a Nov. 27, 2015, shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood—the safety and comfort of medical clients should be especially protected. 

Eight feet is not an unreasonable amount of space, and protesters can still spread their message effectively if they wish. With this law, they get to share their opinions and make their mission known, and patients get to make their own medical choices with minimal distress.