NYTimes revisits high court’s abortion buffer zone ruling

NYTimes revisits high court’s abortion buffer zone ruling July 1, 2014

In grading first-day coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law, I gave The New York Times a D.

My explanation for the near-failing grade:

The NYTimes’ front-page story does an excellent job of explaining where the justices came down. But the Old Gray Lady shows her bias when it comes to reporting reactions to the decision, giving top billing — and much more space — to Planned Parenthood than the winning plaintiff.

The newspaper improved its performance — let’s give it an A for enterprise and a B for overall content — with a second-day story out of Boston exploring what the Supreme Court decision means for both sides.

The NYTimes gives readers a firsthand view of a clinic where the yellow line no longer matters:

BOSTON — Lorraine Loewen, 74, says she comes here once a week to demonstrate against abortion outside of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts health care center.

On Friday, the morning after the Supreme Court struck down restrictions that had created no-protest buffer zones near abortion clinics, she stood inside the yellow line on the pavement that marked a 35-foot radius around the clinic’s entrance.

Ms. Loewen, a retiree from Dedham, Mass., approached a woman and a man who had climbed out of a taxi and were walking toward the clinic, which provides an array of sexual health services, including abortions, and spoke softly in the woman’s ear. She handed the woman a pamphlet depicting a woman’s face and the words, “It’s your choice.”

“I asked her if we could be of any help,” Ms. Loewen said, adding that she preferred talking close up with the people going to the clinic rather than yelling at them from outside the line.

On Friday, Ms. Loewen and a handful of other demonstrators were among the first anti-abortion activists, as a few police officers looked on and a volunteer escort stood ready to bring patients inside the clinic.

From there, the story offers brief background on the high court ruling and then turns to a long section outlining concerns of state officials and abortion-rights advocates who favored the buffer zone law.

The NYTimes allows one couple to complain anonymously about the protesters:

A couple who asked to be identified only by their first names, Nancy and David, were angry about being approached by demonstrators as they accompanied their daughter to the clinic for a post-abortion checkup on Friday. This month when they brought their daughter for the procedure, demonstrators told them they were killing their grandchild, and they had been apprehensive about further confrontations.

“It may be just a line, but it’s a line that some people were afraid to cross,” Nancy said.

She added, “I would like to see the Supreme Court get its fanny out here and talk to these people.”

Overall, the roughly 1,200-word report gives each side an opportunity to speak and provides a nearly equal amount of space to abortion opponents and proponents.

So what keeps the piece from falling short of an A?

The NYTimes allows the abortion-rights sources to discuss concerns about potential harassment and violence, including sharing second-hand examples of nasty, negative treatment. But it seeks no direct response from the anti-abortion side.

Why not ask the abortion opponents — particularly the Pro-Life Action League official quoted — how, if at all, protesters’ strategy has changed over the years? And what might the high court’s ruling mean to that side’s cause and approach?

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