NH bill to “buffer” 1st Amendment

PPNNE's Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.
PPNNE’s Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.

Eight New Hampshire legislators are co-sponsoring a bill to impose a 25-foot “buffer zone” around abortion facilities. Senate bill 319 seeks to criminalize the act of entering or remaining within 25 feet of any entrance, exit, or driveway of a “reproductive health care facility.” The minimum fine for violation would be $100.

The bill’s prime sponsor is Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester). Co-sponsors are Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), Sen. Bob Odell (R-Lempster), Sen. Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton), and Representatives Patrick Long (D-Manchester), Mary Heath (D-Manchester), and Candace Bouchard (D-Concord). No hearing date has yet been set for the bill, which will get its initial hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry).

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule by late June on the constitutionality of a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer around abortion facilities in that state. When residents of Concord, New Hampshire submitted a petition to the City Council a few months ago seeking a buffer zone around the Feminist Health Center on South Main Street, the city attorney recommended that no action be taken before the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the Massachusetts law. New Hampshire legislators have decided to go ahead in advance of Court action.

SB 319 would not apply to persons entering or leaving the abortion facility, municipal employees acting within the scope of employment, and people passing by the facility enroute to another destination.

The bill’s statement of findings and purposes begins with acknowledgments that facility access is a right that must be protected, as is the First Amendment right to “protest or counsel against certain medical procedures.”  The right to pray silently outside an abortion facility is not specified as a right that must be protected.

These additional findings are part of the bill and would be codified in law if the bill passes:

“Recent demonstrations outside of reproductive health facilities have resulted in the fear and intimidation of patients and employees of these facilities … have caused patients and employees of these facilities to believe that their safety and right of privacy are threatened … have resulted in the fear and intimidation of residents and patrons seeking to enter or leave their homes or other private businesses adjacent to the reproductive health care facilities.

“The general court [legislature] further finds that it is in the interest of public health, safety and welfare to regulate the use of public sidewalks and streets adjacent to reproductive health care facilities to promote the free flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks, reduce disputes and potentially violent confrontations requiring significant law enforcement services, protect property rights, protect First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression and secure a citizen’s right to seek reproductive health care services.” 

Potentially violent confrontations?

Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)
Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)

I took this photo during the last 40 Days for Life campaign in Manchester. It shows people praying quietly outside an abortion facility, moving along so as not to block the driveway. All 40DFL participants sign a written pledge to engage in nonviolent behavior even in the face of provocation.


Free flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks?

Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.
Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.

These people were praying outside the Feminist Health Center in Concord when I visited one day to measure what a 35-foot buffer might look like around the property. They accosted no one. The sidewalk flow was no different from the flow on the other side of the street. SB 319 would push these people away from the FHC. (They could then move to the front entrance of the Chamber of Commerce across the street, by the way, where prayer and protest would presumably remain legal.)

Contact information for senators and representatives can be found here, using the links “Find your representatives” and “New Senate roster.”

Related posts: PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones; Thirty-five feet in theory and practice

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