House approves buffer zone for abortion clinics
Lawmakers spent more than two hours debating the controversial issue and another hour arguing over parliamentary questions, including limiting debate.
Anti-abortion activists and protesters have a constitutional right to free speech and free assembly and the religious freedom to express their beliefs, which the bill would violate, opponents said.
But supporters said those seeking an abortion have a right to be left alone and not intimidated or harassed when they seek medical treatment.
“Any patient undergoing a legal procedure should be able to do so without harassment or threat,” said Rep. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye. “Any visit to a doctor is already emotionally charged and intensely personal.”
“If you believe in equal protection, an organization that butchers animals deserves all the same rights as an organization that butchers children,” said Rep. Warren Groen, R-Rochester.
The House changed the bill to require facilities to clearly define the buffer zone for local officials, to help with enforcement.
Several speakers urged the House to wait to approve a buffer zone until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a similar Massachusetts law.
Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, maintained there is little concrete evidence that the law is needed in New Hampshire.
But bill proponents said more than 60 patient complaints have been logged at the Manchester facility since the beginning of 2013, with some involving local law enforcement.
“This would separate those who want to exercise their rights to free speech,” said Rep. Charlene Tekesian R-Pelham, “from those who want to exercise their right to be left alone.”
He said he first began receiving calls from residents about the protesters and activists in front of the clinic about seven years ago.
“I hear nothing about the rights of those who walk the street to go to work or come home,” Long said.
The bill will have to go back to the Senate because of the changes the House made.