Two local legislators are asking Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate Planned Parenthood’s hiring of former state Rep. Marty Walz as the organization’s CEO, alleging that it’s a violation of the conflict-of-interest law.
State Reps. Marc Lombardo and James Lyons wrote in a letter this week to Coakley that Walz was a leading sponsor of the abortion clinic “Buffer Zone Law,” and was then hired to a position directly related to that law.
“The question we are asking is simple. Is there a violation of the conflict-of-interest law when a legislator sponsors a law on behalf of an organization, then that same legislator is hired to a position in that organization that has paid $250,000 per year?” according to their letter to Coakley.
Lombardo, R-Billerica, and Lyons, R-Andover, sent the request to Coakley’s office on Thursday. Walz, a Democrat, was appointed Planned Parenthood’s CEO in early 2013, but the local legislators sent the letter now because of a recent Boston Globe article that mentioned Walz sponsoring a law for Planned Parenthood in 2007.
The abortion clinic buffer zone law “prohibits any type of demonstration for or against abortion within a 35-foot zone around driveways and entrances of abortion clinics,” according to the article. This month, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the law.
In mid-February, Walz left the statehouse to become president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
Before 2007, a floating buffer zone kept protesters from approaching unwilling listeners any closer than 6 feet if they were within 18 feet of the clinic. The floating zone was modeled after the Colorado law that the Supreme Court upheld.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said the old law was confusing to both sides, and essentially unenforceable. “It was not as easy to effect the calm, orderly” entrance to the facility for patients, or their exit.
Walz said opponents can make their case to arriving patients. “It’s the last 7 seconds of your walk into the doorway,” she said, explaining that it takes her that long to walk from the perimeter to the entrance.
But the protesters said the new law limits their ability to be on a public sidewalk with a message that they have a right to express.
“The public sidewalk has effectively been made private property,” said Bill Cotter of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. “Unless I’m quick enough to make it around the perimeter of the buffer zone, I don’t have the opportunity to talk to people face to face or put a leaflet in their hand.”
“The reason I decided to leave the legislature is Planned Parenthood’s work,” Walz said. “I love the work that I have [in the legislature], but Planned Parenthood’s mission is so important to me personally, that I wanted to seize the opportunity in this leadership role.”