On Tuesday, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Haslan (D) will approve a measure to institute a 25-foot buffer zone around reproductive health facilities in the state. The new policy will help prevent women from encountering anti-choice harassment when they’re trying to enter an abortion clinic, a persistent issue that can dissuade some patients from visiting clinics altogether.
“Governor Hassan believes that women should be able to access critical health services without fearing for their safety, and this common sense, bipartisan measure will help ensure the privacy and safety of both patients and the public,” a spokesperson for the governor told the Associated Press.
The five Planned Parenthood clinics in New Hampshire pushed for the measure, saying that many of their clients feel intimidated by the right-wing protesters who picket on the sidewalks in front of their facilities. At one Planned Parenthood location in Manchester, more than 60 patient complaints have been logged since the beginning of last year. Sometimes, there are as many as 100 anti-abortion protesters crowding the sidewalk in front of that particular clinic.
Across the country, anti-choice harassment makes it harder for employees at abortion clinics to do their jobs and often intimidates the women who are looking for medical services. Although not everyone who visits a Planned Parenthood clinic is actually going there for an abortion, even the women who are seeking a Pap exam or an STD test can be subject to the same type of “sidewalk counseling” from abortion opponents.
In many cases, what starts out as picketing can quickly turn violent. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has tracked thousands of incidents of violence perpetrated against abortion clinics over the past two decades, including the stalking and harassment of patients and staff. NAF’s member organizations report that instituting buffer zones helps make their clinics safer and keep their patients more comfortable.
But this policy may not be safe for long. It’s currently the subject of a Supreme Court challenge, as the justices consider whether to strike down a 35-foot buffer zone that was implemented in Massachusetts following a mass shooting at two abortion clinics. Abortion opponents claim the measure represents an infringement on their First Amendment rights — and if the nation’s highest court agrees, that decision could put other states’ buffer zones in jeopardy.
New Hampshire’s new buffer zone will take effect in 30 days. The state, which has a record number of female political leaders, wasn’t content to wait for the Supreme Court’s impending ruling on the subject. “This is not a Legislature that has a history of waiting for courts before making policy decisions,” the senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Jennifer Frizzell, pointed out when lawmakers first began advancing the proposal in the spring.