This summer, the Supreme Court decided that Massachusetts abortion clinics can't legally have buffer zones around them to keep anti-abortion protesters at bay, paving the way for buffer zones to be demolished across the country.
During preliminary arguments in January, Justice Antonin Scalia—who's pretty familiar with the pro-life side of things, since his wife is active in a number of anti-abortion organizations—didn't even want to call the protesters "protesters," telling the Massachusetts attorney general, "I object to you calling these people protesters," adding that the case wasn't about people who "scream and yell and hold up signs."
"It's a counseling case," he said. "Not a—not a protest case."
The Supremes made it clear in their unanimous opinion that the idea was to protect quiet, polite, gentle "sidewalk counselors," who try to dissuade women from having abortions with a little courteous persuasion, a loving one-on-one conversation, maybe a pamphlet or two.
Cosmo's Jill Filipovic checked in on some of those gentle and peace-loving sidewalk counselors, the ones who amass regularly outside a Planned Parenthood in Boston. One of them, Nancy Clark, testified in the buffer zone case, telling the justices that "close personal communication" in a "kind, gentle voice" was her brand of counseling, and called yelling "counterproductive."
Out here in reality, Clark's modus operandi is a little different. Filipovic writes that the buffer zone being struck down has given her far more latitude:
Sometimes, like on this particular day, she stands on the far side of the street anyway, but she likes having options. "Instead of yelling from here," she says, gesturing across the street to the clinic, "I get to yell from over there."
The "sidewalk counselors" in Boston stand directly next to demonstrators holding signs bearing images of bloodied fetuses, the ones yelling things like "Thou shalt not murder! Your fetus will shed blood!" Furthermore, none of the people Filipovic spoke to had any background in counseling or mental health. And in between long ruminations about how America was better when women were obedient to their husbands and less "selfish," they display some really A+ examples of compassionate counseling. One interaction Filipovic witnessed, between the counselors and a woman hurrying into the clinic:
"There's help available," Evelyn calls out.
"Honestly," the woman replies, "I'm having a miscarriage right now, so I really don't feel like talking to you."
She disappears behind the clinic doors.
"That's usually what they say," says Ruth, another demonstrator who watched the exchange (both Ruth and Evelyn declined to give their last names). "The new abortion mentality is no more of the 'choice' word. The thing is to claim that abortion is just a miscarriage."
Filipovic's two main interview subjects also advocate for "natural" family planning over birth control pills. Between them they have 14 children. None of them have maintained any meaningful contact with the women they brag about having "saved" from getting an abortion. Just another glimpse into the kind of help on offer here.
Anti-abortion protester Eleanor McCullen, of Boston, pictured outside Planned Parenthood in December. Image via AP