New York City Council Hears Testimony on Clinic Access Bill

The New York City Council today heard testimony on a bill that would improve access to women’s health clinics and make it easier to prosecute harassers who protest outside of clinics.  The bill would create a 15-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances in which no protest would be permitted, but it does not target peaceful protesters, "sidewalk counselors," or prayer vigils. As Council Speaker Christine Quinn wrote in a letter to the editor in New York Daily News today, "Anyone who wishes to protest, and does not try to harass those who
enter a health-care facility or willfully interfere with the operation
of a reproductive health-care facility, should have no fear of arrest
under our bill."  Quinn and NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlon wrote in the Metro newspaper, "Through the implementation of this Clinic Access
Bill, health clinic staff can have protestors arrested who deliberately
interfere with a clinic’s operations. Additionally, this Clinic Access
Bill will allow police to arrest protestors they see blocking clinic entrances
and exits as well as parking lots and driveways, which is vital to health providers
in outer boroughs."

Under the new law, providers could sue harassers on their clients’ behalf, a provision that particularly frightened a panel offering testimony in opposition to the bill. A monsignor who engages in "sidewalk counseling" (unfortunately, I did not catch his name) stated to the Council that he would much prefer to respond to harassment allegations in court from the woman who felt harassed, rather than from the woman’s provider. City Councilman Charles Barron responded with words I wish could be marshaled every time reproductive health advocates are fighting for protections: "With due respect, Monsignor, you may prefer that, but for a woman, an immigrant, a young woman who has been harassed, she may feel too intimidated to bring charges and may be relieved that her provider can."  Hearing a male lawmaker tell a male anti-choicer to put women’s perspectives first felt ground-breaking, and the chamber erupted in applause.

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  • invalid-0

    So, does that mean prayer vigils and ‘sidewalk counseling’ wouldn’t be considered harassment? They should be, as both are intended to intimidate and shame women, and influence their medical decisions.

    I don’t care if anti-choicers want to protest, but they can do it somewhere other than medical facilities.

  • emily-douglas

    Emma, my understanding of the bill suggests that yes, prayer vigils and "sidewalk counseling," as long as they are conducted more than 15 feet from clinic entrances, are perfectly legal.  Attorneys from New York Civil Liberties Council stressed in their testimony that the bill strives to balance constitutional rights of free speech with women’s rights to seek health care services.  It was interesting to note, though, that even City Council members who seemed to be in support of the law credited the sidewalk counselors for their work and seemed to think that there was value in this kind of intimidation.

  • invalid-0

    That is incorrect. The bill would not bar sidewalk counseling and prayer vigils within 15 feet of clinic entrances. The bill bars harassment. Prayer and handing out literature is not harassment. I thought Councilwoman Spears was quite clear on that point. The danger is that some may interpret it in the way you suggest.