I wasn’t expecting gifts for July 4 weekend, but I feel like I got one in this feature story in the Los Angeles Times. It’s a follow-up on the Supreme Court’s recent decision that overturned a law in Massachusetts meant to keep protesters away from abortion clinics.
The article is a good example of old-school long-form journalism. It’s nuanced, detail-rich and balanced — at least more balanced than I might have feared. We’ll discuss my reservations later.
For now, the Times joins Eleanor McCullen and fellow prolifers in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston. McCullen, you may recall, was the main plaintiff in the case decided by the Supreme Court.
First lesson is not to judge a story by its headline, any more than you’d judge a book by its cover. This story starts with a hostile-sounding “Abortion foes get up close and personal after court erases buffer zones.” Sounds like they’re waving and yammering in people’s faces.
But no. Times reporter Alana Semuels joins the protesters on the sidewalk, watching as they gently try to dissuade women from aborting their babies:
The two women climb out of the car in front of Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue and Eleanor McCullen reaches them in two quick steps. She tries to hand them a white rose and a pamphlet about alternatives to abortion, and beseeches them to let her help.
“I can help with housing, medical — we work with St. Elizabeth’s, just down the road, and everything is free,” she says, walking with the women as they approach the door.
Just a week ago, McCullen could not have gotten this close to the women in Massachusetts because of a law passed in 2007 that required that protesters stay behind a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances to abortion clinics.
But the Supreme Court struck down that law on June 26, ruling unanimously that the buffer zone violated protesters’ 1st Amendment rights to free speech. McCullen, a cheery 77-year old grandmother who carries knit baby hats outside the clinic, was the lead plaintiff in the case.