BOSTON — Two recent Supreme Court rulings — including the decision invalidating Massachusetts' 35-foot "buffer zone" around abortion clinic entrances — are highlighting differences between the Republican candidates for governor.
Charlie Baker, the party's endorsed gubernatorial candidate, said through a spokesman that he "cares deeply about both ensuring women can safely access health care facilities and protecting freedom of speech."
Baker's campaign also noted his choice for running mate, Karyn Polito, voted for the buffer zone as a state representative and that Baker hopes "all interested parties will work together in quickly crafting new legislation that legally protects everyone's rights."
Baker's tea party rival Mark Fisher had a more enthusiastic response, calling the ruling "wonderful news" and saying the majority of women who have had abortions feel they had no choice and were pressured by their family, boyfriend or husband.
"This ruling means that women will have a better chance to receive the information they need to make informed decisions," said Fisher, who made no reference to public safety concerns. "This decision should be hailed by both pro-life and truly pro-choice groups."
Critics of buffer zones say they makes it harder for anti-abortion activists to counsel women against having an abortion while supporters of the zone say they help protect women against unwanted harassment and intimidation.
The two candidates also differed on another ruling that found some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Fisher enthusiastically backed the decision, calling it another blow "to the Obama administration's attempts to remake the U.S. Constitution into a tool to be used against its citizens."
"By upholding our First Amendment right to the freedom of religion this ruling has given hope to common citizens that no one, not even the president of the United States is above the law," Fisher said.
Baker offered a more tempered response.
"The good news is nothing in this decision changes the coverage women currently have access to here in Massachusetts," Baker said. "We had a law in place that already requires coverage for these services, and nothing about this decision changes that."
Baker, who ran and lost to Gov. Deval Patrick four years ago, knows any Republican running for governor in Massachusetts needs to appeal to independent and Democratic voters. That's how former Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci — both of whom Baker worked for — won.
That's why Baker in large part has tried to focus his campaign on issues like the economy and education while casting himself as a moderate on social issues like abortion rights and gay marriage, both of which he supports.
On the Democratic side, there has been little difference in the reactions of the three candidates — Martha Coakley, Steven Grossman and Don Berwick. All three lamented each ruling as a setback for women.
Coakley, the state's attorney general, vowed to help craft legislation to toughen protections around abortion clinics. Grossman also said the Legislature needs to take action quickly.
Berwick said the contraception ruling shows the need to "de-couple health coverage from employment and move to a publicly accountable single payer health care system."
Independent candidate Jeff McCormick said he was "extremely disappointed" by the buffer zone ruling while third party candidate Evan Falchuk called the buffer zone law "well-intentioned but hugely flawed."