Last week, after making changes to a House bill, the New Hampshire Senate voted 13-10 to create a “patient safety zone” around abortion clinics. The bill was sent on to Gov. Hassan’s desk where it currently awaits her signature.
The bill states that, with the exception of law enforcement, clinic customers, employees and passers-by, “No person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius up to 25 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility.”
The bill’s stated aim is “to ensure that patients and employees of reproductive health care facilities have unimpeded access to reproductive health care services while accommodating the First Amendment rights of people to communicate their message to their intended audience without undue burdens or restrictions.”
But NHRTL president Kurt Wuelper told CNSNews.com, that the bill would seriously hamper his organization’s outreach efforts. He said that at the abortion clinic in Manchester where his group regularly goes to pray and protest, “it would put us across the street because the sidewalk’s only nine feet wide.”
Women contemplating an abortion typically “take literature through the window of the car, [but] not if we’re 25 feet away," he told CNSNews.com. "They put us 25 feet away from where we can talk to them...[and it] makes it virtually impossible” to do sidewalk counseling from that distance.
“New Hampshire Right to Life supports those that pray and witness in front of the abortion clinics and this obviously is targeted at stopping them from trying to help women,” Wuelper said, “We’re asking the governor to veto the bill because it’s an egregious violation of our constitutional right.”
The bill was filed in response to over 60 alleged complaints of harassment and intimidation by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester. But Wuelper said that the demonstrations outside of the clinic were peaceful attempts to offer women alternatives to abortion.
“On a regular basis there are women who are receptive to that and go to the pregnancy center that’s just across the street and save their babies,” he told CNSNews.com. “That’s why we’re out there. We’ve been doing this for 40 years. There are no incidents, there’s never been any charges against people or anything like that.
“These are just people with a heart to save women and babies, [and] the way to do that is to offer them help and friendship, and that’s what they’re trying to do and that’s what Planned Parenthood’s trying to prevent us doing,” he added.
The legislation is similar to a 2009 Massachusetts law which enacted a “35-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of abortion clinics.”
That law is currently being challenged in the United States Supreme Court case, McCullen v. Coakley, by pro-life advocates on First Amendment grounds.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in January, during which the justices appeared to be skeptical of the size of the buffer zones and the manner in which they restricted abortion protesters. A decision is expected in the next couple of weeks.
New Hampshire state Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), who opposed the buffer zone bill, brought up the high court’s pending decision as she asked her fellow legislators to delay action on what she characterized as “a freedom of speech issue.”
“There is currently a case in front of the Supreme Court; it was heard back in January,” Sen. Carson said, “If we get to go to a committee of conference, that will give us time to see the ruling and act accordingly. I would hate to pass a law and then find out that it’s unconstitutional.”
Wuelper also brought up the Supreme Court case, telling CNSNews.com that he was “disappointed that that argument didn’t carry any weight with the legislature because I mean, it just seems foolish. They could have waited a couple weeks, right?”
He said that he believes the New Hampshire legislature was in a rush to pass the buffer zone bill because “this is the biggest thing on the agenda of the abortion industry. Got to stop these people from being out there.
“We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court comes down on our side,” he added.