Following links from The Atlantic article on South Dakota’s upcoming rate-cap initiative leads me to this report on the results of the Supreme Court’s reversal last year of Massachusetts’s abortion clinic buffer zone law. That decision allowed abortion protesters to breach the previous 35-foot buffer zone and walk right up to patients entering Planned Parenthood clinics and shout desperate pleas, bad science, and condemnations that may have nothing to do with the personal reasons bringing women to those healthcare facilities.
(I look forward to being granted similar latitude when I’m marching the sidewalks of Aberdeen with initiative petitions this summer. I’ll try not to shout.)
Alas, all that Sadducetical shouting outside abortion clinics doesn’t achieve much:
A 2012 study published in the journal Contraception surveyed 1,000 women at 30 different clinics and found that about half of them felt at least slightly upset after encountering pro-life activists. Those who saw the protesters without hearing them were less likely to be affected—only 3 percent of those women reported being extremely upset. But there wasn’t much difference between women who heard protesters and those who were actually stopped by them: 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively, reported feeling extremely upset by their encounters.
What’s more, the women who were stopped by protesters were no more likely than any of the other women to feel guilt, sadness, anger, or regret a week after their abortions. The women who were most likely to feel those negative emotions were the same women who struggled with the decision initially; it made no difference whether they encountered any protesters once they got to the clinic.
In other words, says Dana Greene Foster, a medical researcher at UC San Francisco and the study’s lead author, when a woman is determined to terminate her pregnancy, protesters have little effect on her decision. As Foster puts it. “The reasons women have abortions are much more important to them than someone else’s opinion about abortion.” The Supreme Court has upheld the right to protest on public sidewalks, and all the way up to a clinic’s front door. And for those who equate abortion with murder, showing up each day with signs, flyers, and rosary beads may feel like God’s work. But even the most dedicated among them know that true “saves” are few and far between [Diane Pearl, “Can You Change a Woman’s Mind in the Walk up to an Abortion Clinic?” The Atlantic, 2015.03.19].
A rational cost-benefit analysis suggests abortion-clinic protesters could save more lives through vocal support of birth control, maternity leave, and universal health care. Alas, there’s no rational argument with someone in the grip of religious fervor.