The Architecture Of Abortion: How Providers Build Their Own Buffer Zones | Via
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law allowing for a 35-foot buffer zone outside clinics offering abortions. The law, which builds off of a similar one in Colorado, went into effect in 2007 and provided a fixed, no-go zone around women’s reproductive health clinics. The buffer zone, which was supported by local law enforcement, limited the proximity of pro-life protestors to the women and the staff entering the facility, thus diminishing public safety concerns.
And public safety is a serious concern. While Roe v. Wade remains legally intact and secures the right to an abortion in the United States, clinic violence represents one of the greatest deterrents to women and to providers. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has tracked reported cases of violence against clinics since 1977, and the long list of incidents includes eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, as well as thousands of cases of criminal activity like kidnapping, stalking, and a rash of attacks using butyric acid. Add to that the daily affronts of picketing, obstruction, and intimidation, and you can understand why Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of NAF, said in a statement last week that “buffer zones work” in protecting people.
The SCOTUS ruling serves yet another blow to those hoping to provide safe and accessible reproductive health services to women. While other building types have benefited from the expertise of architects when addressing public safety issues—think, for instance, of the architectural interventions around safety, wayfinding, and crowd control at hospitals, federal buildings, courthouses, and stadiums—reproductive health care clinics rarely see that kind of design support. Clinics are left to fend for themselves and, as a result, are forced to create ad hoc buffer zones where architectural and legislative options have failed to deliver.