Buffer Zones and Beginnings

Hi, everyone! I’m back in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina for the summer after busy Spring semester, beginning my research on the factors that predict the enactment of state-level abortion clinic access laws.

Although I have undertaken directed research in the Government department before, it was a bit overwhelming to get started on such an expansive project. To break down my research into more manageable pieces, I worked with my advisor, Government Professor Chris Nemacheck, to devise a work schedule for the summer. I’m planning to spend the first four weeks of the summer expanding my literature review and finalizing my variables and data sources. For the second four weeks, I’m planning to outline and begin writing my introduction and literature review, as well as start my data analyses. Finally, for the last two to four weeks, I will use some of my preliminary analyses to write a smaller paper that I will submit to various undergraduate political science and law review journals.

I’ve also been checking out older posts on the Honors Fellows blog and reading online advice columns about the process of completing a long-term self-directed research project. One of my favorites has been The Thesis Whisperer—although it’s written by and largely aimed at Ph.D students, it still provides funny and useful tips from student researchers. Further, to keep track of my thoughts throughout the research process, I’ve started keeping a research journal (an idea I picked up from The Thesis Whisperer), which will force me to jot down the ideas that I would inevitably forget otherwise.

Besides planning for the next few months, I have also been reviewing the work that I began during my time in the Dunn Civil Liberties Colloquium during Fall 2016. During this course, I began researching and writing about abortion clinic access laws and the factors that might determine their enactment. As I mentioned in my abstract post, I am studying clinic access laws that prohibit damage to clinic property, harassment of those going into clinics, obstruction of clinic entrances, and/or online harassment of clinic employees. A specific subset of these laws are known as “buffer zone” or “bubble zone” laws, which essentially create a “no-protest” zone around entire clinics or certain areas of the clinic. Since these laws have been challenged on the grounds that they infringe upon protesters’ First Amendment right to free speech, they have been enacted in only four states.

Right now, I predict that both unified Democratic control of the state legislature—that is, Democratic control of both chambers of a state’s legislature and governor’s office—as well as a previous history of abortion clinic violence and/or large anti-abortion protests would trigger the enactment of clinic access laws. However, all four states with buffer zone laws were under split or Republican governmental control when their governor signed the law into effect. I hope to explain this phenomenon through my research. The Republican Party has largely taken an anti-abortion stance since the procedure was first nationally decriminalized; yet, states under split or Republican control are more likely to enact laws that restrict the speech of those whose anti-abortion messages align with the Party’s platform. Thus, I will explore whether a state’s history of clinic violence can push Democratic and Republican state legislators and governors alike to enact a buffer zone law. I also plan to examine how states’ historical approaches to the First Amendment right to free speech (and possibly the First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression) may impact the likelihood that it will implement a buffer zone law.

That’s it from me this time! Here’s what I’m planning on reading next:

Nice, David C. 1988. “Abortion Clinic Bombings as Political Violence.” American Journal of Political Science, 32(1): 178-195.

Pridemore, William, and Joshua Freilich. 2007. “The Impact of State Laws Protecting Abortion Clinics and Reproductive Rights on Crimes Against Abortion Providers: Deterrence, Backlash, or Neither?” Law and Human Behavior 31(6): 611-627.

Wilson, Joshua C. 2013. The Street Politics of Abortion. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.