Two years ago: the first hint of a NH buffer zone

Peaceful prayer witnesses outside Concord's Feminist Health Center
Still free to be on the sidewalk, for now: peaceful witness outside a Concord abortion facility.

As a House-passed buffer zone repeal bill makes its way through the New Hampshire Senate (where its prospects are uncertain), I recall a post on this blog two years ago when buffer zones first made their way into public discussion in the Granite State.

From April 2013: PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones outside NH facilities 

The appellate court decision referred to by the PPNNE rep I quoted was of course McCullen v. Coakley, which when later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court left the Massachusetts buffer zone law in ruins. The Burlington zone she mentioned? Gone. Ditto for one in Portland, Maine.

So much for using appellate decisions to impose censorship zones.

Today, two years later, buffer zone supporters are fighting repeal while backing away from their own handiwork – a neat trick, really. In my thirty years of keeping an eye on the State House, I have never seen anything like this.

The Sunday afternoon team at the halfway point of the Fall 2014 campaign.
A 40DFL team outside Greenland, NH’s abortion facility.

A PPNNE lobbyist at a recent Senate hearing used a Pennsylvania decision from last month to bolster her opposition to repeal. (Yes, another appellate ruling. Some lessons aren’t easily absorbed.) That case is Bruni v. Bader. The federal district court ruled that plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on the merits and therefore their request for an injunction against a Pittsburgh buffer zone was denied.

I’m not an attorney, I haven’t yet read the text of that decision, and none of the news coverage answers this question: is there a record in Pittsburgh of police action enforcing existing pre-buffer laws relating to trespassing, loitering, harassment, or even parking violations? If there isn’t, then Bruni is a mighty slim reed for New Hampshire buffer supporters to lean on.

Looking back on the April 2013 blog post, it’s interesting to consider just how fast the New Hampshire buffer zone law moved from “conversation” to done deal. The conversations had obviously been going on long before they became public. The same is no doubt true for the current legislative “conversations” about revisiting the existing law.  Let’s hope the people who want straight repeal are equally committed to such private conversations with policymakers.


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