Over 500 years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci was engrossed in sketching a series of Views of the Foetus in the Womb (sample seen at right), attempting to document the development of a human life as understood by scientists in 1510, even by the most primitive technologies they had back then.
It’s remarkable that Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings bear such a striking resemblance to the modern pre-natal ultrasound photos plastered to signs and held up at pro-life rallies in the 21st century.
Yet a Massachusetts law prohibits where these age-old images can been displayed and discussed. The law makes it illegal for pro-life activists to be on a public sidewalk within 35 feet of an abortion clinic entrance, exit or driveway. Today, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard a challenge to the Massachusetts law in the case of McCullen v. Coakley.
(As a bit of background for today’s hearing, in 2000, SCOTUS upheld a different free speech buffer zone that Colorado had passed. Five Justices in that case still remain on the Court, three of whom were dissenters in the decision.)
At the SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston summed up the conservative position on the Court:
Justice Antonin Scalia (one of the dissenters when the Court upheld a different kind of buffer zone in 2000) led the verbal attack on the Massachusetts law on Wednesday, repeatedly insisting that what the anti-abortion challengers want to do is not to protest at all, but just “to talk to the people.” If they actually were staging protests, he said, it might be permissible to require them to stand back for thirty-five feet. Justice Alito also said explicitly that “what these people want to do is speak quietly.”
If that perspective forms the basis for a decision on the power to insulate abortion clinics, it would create a considerable degree of freedom to engage in what anti-abortion organizations call “sidewalk counseling.”
The biggest surprise to courtroom observers came with liberal Justice Elena Kagan’s comments and questions. Reuters reported:
At one point she noted the Massachusetts law “does have its problems.”
Kagan’s main concern appeared to be the size of the buffer zone.
“I guess I’m a little bit hung up on why you need so much space,” she told Massachusetts’ lawyer, Jennifer Miller.
A ruling should be issued by June.
Over 1.2 million babies are aborted each year in the US. That’s 22.4 abortions per 100 pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute.