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Abortion buffer zone suspended throughout NH

In Derry, it was a matter of timing. In Concord, one of legal interpretation.

Officials in both communities explained Thursday why they couldn’t agree to a request earlier this week by a federal judge to hold off on enforcement of the state’s newly minted buffer zone law that covers abortion clinics.

The refusal by Concord City Manager Thomas Aspell and Derry officials prompted U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante on Wednesday to order the two communities not to enforce the 25-foot buffer zone.

The law was signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan last month and went into the books Thursday.

Three other communities, Attorney General Joseph Foster and five county prosecutors agreed to suspend any enforcement of the law until Laplante holds a hearing on its constitutionality on July 25.

Aspell explained why he wouldn’t agree to Laplante’s initial request.

“We’re going to uphold state law unless it’s been declared to be invalid, unconstitutional or unenforceable. We didn’t think that was the case,” Aspell said.

At issue is court action sought by seven New Hampshire residents who walk, pray, picket or approach patients outside New Hampshire clinics. They have asked Laplante to prevent enforcement of the buffer zone.

The people, who call themselves sidewalk counselors, say the buffer zone law infringes on their First Amendment rights. Their filing cites last month’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found that a Massachusetts buffer zone violated First Amendment rights of pickets and counselors.

In Derry, the issue was one of timing, an official said.

Town Council Chairman Mark Osborne said he found out late Tuesday about Laplante’s request. He said that wasn’t enough time for the town council to meet, consult with its lawyer and make a decision.

“Derry was not taking a position with respect to the controversy or the law,” Osborne said. “Under Derry’s town charter, the council acts as a body.”

The New Hampshire law requires abortion clinics to work out details about the buffer zone with local officials. Aspell said the Concord Feminist Health Center has had some discussions with city officials but has not filed any applications for the buffer zone.

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