THE Supreme Court's decision last week allowing judges to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics represents the latest blow to the clinic-blockade movement.
But it is likely only to reinforce, rather than establish, a trend that has developed over the last eight months: a marked decline in clinic blockades, arrests at clinics, and violent acts aimed at clinics and staff.
In the first four months of 1994, there were 16 blockades nationwide and 108 arrests, compared with 66 blockades and 1,236 arrests for all of 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which represents clinics. And for the same period this year, there were 24 acts of vandalism at clinics and four cases of clinic doctors or staff being stalked, compared with 113 acts of vandalism and 188 cases of stalking for 1993.
Under the Bush administration, ``there was a climate of permissiveness and generosity on the part of police and courts around harassing activity,'' says Sylvia Stengle, executive director of NAF. Under the pro-abortion-rights Clinton administration, she says, there's been a ``complete sea change'' in the way the Justice Department pursues cases.
Full brunt of law
In addition, the Supreme Court ruled this year that prosecutors need not demonstrate a financial motive in applying federal racketeering laws to the leaders of the blockade movement. And Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act this year, making it a federal offense to block entrance to an abortion clinic.
Now, with the ruling last Thursday that judges may keep anti-abortion activists away from clinic entrances without violating their right to free speech, the court has given a green light for a proliferation of such buffer zones at clinics around the country.
This ruling and the FACE Act will have a chilling effect on anti-abortion activists whose forms of activism include handing out pamphlets and talking to women entering clinics, picketing, and sit-ins, say spokespeople for the blockade movement.