With Abortion Rights Back in the Limelight, the Culture Wars Have Returned to Boston

Anti-abortion group Right to Life put their message on two massive billboards on Cambridge Street. The billboards demand legislators abandon any efforts to re-install protest buffer zones around abortion clinics.
Anti-abortion group Right to Life put their message on two massive billboards on Cambridge Street. The billboards demand legislators abandon any efforts to re-install protest buffer zones around abortion clinics.
Nicole Orlando

One of the most contentious aspects of the culture wars is back in a big way in Massachusetts. Anti-abortion organization Massachusetts Citizens for Life has erected two massive billboards along Cambridge Street, imploring lawmakers to give up any attempt to install new buffer zones around the state’s abortion clinics.

The billboards come as Massachusetts lawmakers are at work drafting new regulations to protect people entering Planned Parenthood clinics from harassment. A new bill filed Monday would give police more leeway to disperse groups at clinics if they were substantially blocking access to the facility. The dispersal order would force individuals to stay at least 25 feet from clinic entrances for at least eight hours, according to the Associated Press.

The drive for a new set of regulations came on the heels of a June Supreme Court ruling declaring the state’s 2007 “buffer zone” law unconstitutional. That ruling allowed protesters to cross the yellow painted lines that previously kept them 35-feet away from entrances at Planned Parenthood sites across the state.

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Pressing the advantage given to them by the Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts Citizens for Life’s billboards are located down the hill from the state house, where, presumably, many of the lawmakers can see them as they go to and from work.

The huge signs are also a block away from City Hall Plaza, where a women’s equality rally was held in early July, held in part as a response to both the buffer zone decision and the Hobby Lobby decision, which allows closely-held private companies to withhold payment for certain types of contraception in their health plans.

It’s not just bills and billboards heralding the return of the culture wars. Operation Rescue in Boston’s president William Cotter penned a strongly-worded op-ed piece in The Boston Globe on Monday, noting the lack of arrests around the Commonwealth Avenue Planned Parenthood since the buffer zones were struck down. He also criticized buffer zone supporters who cite John Salvi’s murderous 1994 rampage as proof the buffer zone was needed. In his editorial, Cotter argued that a painted line on a sidewalk would not stop “a determined gunman.”

Even the billboards themselves—not the message, the physical billboards—are controversial, with the city and sign owner battling for years over the location and permitting of the structures.