New Hampshire lawmakers are advancing a proposal that would create a 25-foot buffer zone around the state’s abortion clinics, an effective method of preventing persistent anti-choice harassment that can negatively impact patients and staff.
The state’s Senate approved the buffer zone last week, and the measure now heads to the House of Representatives, where the majority of lawmakers are supportive of abortion rights. It’s expected to pass, and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is expected to sign it into law.
The five Planned Parenthood clinics that operate in New Hampshire pushed for the measure, saying that their clients are increasingly feeling intimidated by the right-wing protesters who picket the entrance of the health care facilities. At the Planned Parenthood in Manchester, more than 60 patient complaints have been logged since the beginning of last year.
“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,” the senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Jennifer Frizzell, noted after the Senate approved the bill last week. “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.”
This isn’t a problem specific to the state of New Hampshire. The National Abortion Federation (NAF), a professional association of abortion providers across the country, recently surveyed its members and found that 90 percent of clinics are concerned about the safety of both patients and staff who need to get in and out of their facility. NAF has logged thousands of incidences of violence perpetrated against abortion clinics over the past two decades — including death threats, attempted bombings, picketing, obstruction, burglary, hate mail, stalking, and even kidnapping.
Cosmopolitan recently published the personal stories from six women who have faced harassment as they’ve attempted to enter clinics. “Getting an abortion was already the hardest day of my life. To have these people who don’t know the first thing about me or why I was even there apply such impersonal hatred and judgment on me was infuriating,” one young woman from Arizona recounted.
In response, several municipalities have enacted buffer zones at the local level. Only two states, Massachusetts and Colorado, have statewide policies on the issue. But Massachusetts’ buffer zone is currently the subject of a pending Supreme Court challenge; essentially, the nation’s highest court is considering whether protester’s First Amendment rights trump women’s right to access abortion clinics free of harassment and intimidation.
Depending how the justices rule, it will end up impacting the other states that have enacted their own buffer zones, and New Hampshire may not be able to enforce its new measure. Nonetheless, the state — which has a record number of female political leaders — isn’t content to await the Supreme Court’s decision on the matter. Lawmakers wanted to take a stand anyway. “This is not a Legislature that has a history of waiting for courts before making policy decisions,” Planned Parenthood’s Frizzell pointed out.