Clinics Health

Safety Zones to Protect Patients from COVID-19 and Protestors Up For Debate in Louisville

In Kentucky, the Louisville Metro Council is set to debate legislation that would allow healthcare facilities to create “buffer zones” outside their entrances. This would provide protection from COVID-19 and preserve access to services.

This access is especially important for medical centers that provide abortion services. The EMW Women’s Surgical Center is the only licensed abortion clinic in Kentucky, according to its website. This center draws anti-abortion protesters who crowd the sidewalks near the facility’s entrance. The Louisville Safety Zone campaign has been working with local officials to create buffer zones, which organizers are now calling “safety zones,” since 2016. 

The campaign has become even more necessary as COVID-19 becomes a major health concern. “Preventing the willful obstruction of and interference with people’s access to medical counseling and treatment at a health care facility is a matter of city-wide concern,” the legislation reads, “especially due to the current health pandemic.”

The ordinance, which was filed Monday, has nine cosponsors across Louisville. It would not just apply to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center but to all healthcare facilities. All medical facilities would be able “to create a 12-foot-wide safety zone extending from entrances to the closest street curb,” according to Courier

This safety zone would only allow licensees, emergency services, invitees, and patients who want to reach the facility. Anyone else would be prohibited from creating obstructions, remaining, or entering into the safety zone. The first violation of this would prompt a written warning and the second violation would lead to a fine from $100-$500. 

The reasoning behind this law is that many people who enter healthcare facilities may be at-risk or disabled, making COVID-19 much more dangerous for them. Without these safety zones, these marginalized people may not be able to access healthcare. 

These safety zones would allow healthcare facilities to request the Department of Public Works to mark the sidewalk and post a sign saying “Healthcare facility: No standing or obstructions within this zone.” 

Meg Stern, the support fund director for the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said Tuesday that this ordinance is “long overdue,” adding “every day that goes by, there are people that are having to endure harassment. And now, there’s this potentially deadly virus threat, and people have to walk past strangers that are yelling and not wearing a mask and getting in their face and blocking their path.” Clinic escorts, who are volunteers that walk with patients into the facility, have been disbanded due to the virus but protesters continue to gather. 

Stern also added that the local Metro council members don’t have to support abortion to vote in favor of this, but instead these zones are about “public safety” and “accessing care regardless of what kind of care someone needs to access.”

Sources: National Institute for Reproductive Health 08/05/20; Louisville Legislar 08/05/20; Courier 08/05/20; WFPL 08/05/20; WKU 08/05/20

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