Move to establish buffer zone at abortion clinics supported by House committee
CONCORD — A bill to establish a 25-foot buffer zone around facilities where abortions are performed was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday on a vote of 12-7.
The House Judiciary Committee did change the bill to require facilities to clearly define the buffer zone’s layout and dimensions for local officials to help with enforcement and to make the bill effective 30 days after it becomes law.
Senate Bill 319 was sponsored by Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, as a result of activities and protests at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s center on Pennacook Street in Manchester, but would apply to all five abortion clinics in the state.
Representatives from Planned Parenthood told the committee at a public hearing last month that more than 60 patient complaints have been logged since the beginning of 2013, with some involving local law enforcement.
Similar problems have occurred at facilities in Concord and Portsmouth.
But bill opponents say the bill restricts First Amendment rights to speech. They said abortion opponents have a right to express their opinions and offer counseling to women about to enter the facilities.
Opponents told the committee those standing outside the facilities often pray and are their with their children to express their free speech rights.
But representatives of Planned Parenthood told a different story, saying some women feel threatened and harassed by the protestors’ actions.
“A woman seeking reproductive health care should not be harassed, obstructed or intimidated by individuals who oppose the decision she has made about her own pregnancy,” said Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood. “A patient safety zone surrounding the entrances to reproductive health centers will ensure the privacy and dignity of patients, while improving public safety in communities where these health centers are located.”
The bill, which is expected to pass the House and likely to be signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan, could be mute, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court decides a case dealing with a similar buffer zone law in Massachusetts.
The House will vote on SB 319 on Wednesday, May 14. The Senate passed the bill 15-9 in March.