Pennsylvania City Enacts A Buffer Zone Around Abortion Clinics To Protect Patients And Staff

The city council in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, voted unanimously this week to create a buffer zone around the entrances and driveways to reproductive health clinics and medical facilities, stopping protesters from being closer than 20 feet to offices. Planned Parenthood had asked for the measure to prevent anti-abortion protesters from harassing patients and staff at its local clinic.

After Planned Parenthood began offering medication-induced abortions almost a year ago, police have responded to incidents between protesters, patients, and staff members. Kim Custer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood’s Northeast, Mid-Penn & Bucks County locations said that being able to separate the demonstrators from the patients trying to get into the clinic and staff members will Kim Custer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood’s Northeast, Mid-Penn & Bucks County locations“>help to stop the fights:

Our employees, our patients or anyone else visiting our patients at that time shouldn’t have to be followed, harassed, yelled at or feel that their safety is at risk,” Custer said. “We’re thrilled that it was a unanimous vote.” […]

Planned Parenthood offers an array of services and too many people assume that women visiting the clinic are going there for abortions, Councilwoman Susan Brown-Wilson said.

Everyone has the right to enter a health care facility without being interrogated, Brown-Wilson said.

“Women have a right to choose for themselves. And people really don’t know what [women] are going there for. They assume that everyone is going there for abortions and that’s not true,” she said. “Planned Parenthood isn’t just about abortion, it’s also about health care and providing other medical services.”

While the council’s vote was unanimous, one anti-abortion protester questioned why the measure was needed. Suzanne Doller claimed that existing trespassing laws would protect patients and staff without stopping her ability to protest against abortion procedures. “Babies are being killed there. [Protesters] are citizens, and we should be allowed to walk on public sidewalks like anybody else does,” she told the local newspaper. One councilwoman said they were not trying to limit freedom of speech, but simply trying to ensure that women had access to medical care. “We’re just here to assure that those persons seeking medical care can get there without being detained or harassed,” said councilwoman Sandra Reid.

And the Harrisburg clinic has a reason to fear additional violence between protesters and people trying to get into the reproductive health clinic. In Oregon, an altercation between a woman and an anti-abortion protester at a Planned Parenthood clinic that does not even perform abortions led to a stabbing. And harassment from anti-abortion protesters forced one anti-abortion clinic in New York to stop providing services.

Officials in New York City are also pushing back against clinic harassment. The city has started a program to recruit and train clinic escorts who will assist women in passing the anti-abortion protesters and so-called sidewalk counselors outside of health care offices.