The New Hampshire Senate voted last week to create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortion services.
SB 319 was filed in response to over 60 complaints by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester since the start of 2013. The complaints detailed verbal harassment, intimidation, and passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. It had largely bipartisan support when it was introduced.
“Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation,” said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, regarding some Republican support of the bill.
The bill had already passed the Senate in February, but the House made a few changes before passage and then sent it to the Senate for another vote. It will now go to the governor’s desk, where Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it.
In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley on whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot clinic safety buffer zone is constitutional. The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks. In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature, with the support of local law enforcement, strengthened its law to create a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers.
“We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence,” commented Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “These laws are instrumental in protecting patients, doctors, and healthcare workers from harassment and intimidation and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation joined other women’s and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law at issue in McCullen. The law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next month.
Media Resources: RH Reality Check 5/27/14; The New Hampshire General Court 5/15/14; New Hampshire Public Radio 5/23/14; Feminist Newswire 1/15/14