On Monday night, the city council of Portland, Maine, unanimously passed a law requiring a 39-foot “buffer zone” around the city’s only abortion clinic, which will protect patients of the Planned Parenthood clinic from harassment by anti-choice protesters.
Cheers erupted when the ruling was announced at the hearing, which was packed with supporters wearing pink t-shirts. More than 120 supporters attended, with 27 testifying in favor of the buffer zone, Eric Covey, grassroots organizer with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told RH Reality Check.
The patient safety zone ordinance was passed as an amendment with an emergency preamble, which means it took effect immediately.
“As of right now, patients won’t have to deal with intimidation, harassment, or concern for safety while accessing quality reproductive and sexual health-care services at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England,” said Covey.
Patients and employees of the Planned Parenthood have said they faced a weekly “gauntlet” of harassment from protesters with the Pro-Life Missionaries of Maine. Patients frequently canceled appointments and reported fearing for their safety, despite a police presence on-site.
One local business owner, Mike Fink, closed his restaurant because of the incessant protest activity. “It didn’t make sense to keep selling sandwiches with kids holding posters of dead babies out front,” he told RH Reality Check last month. Fink had also led counter-protests against the anti-choice activists.
City Council Member Ed Suslovic said in the meeting that the ordinance is a “very careful balancing act” between protesters’ rights to free expression and the patients’ rights to safely access health care.
Buffer zone laws have been upheld three times by the Supreme Court, but the legality of Portland’s ordinance could depend on whether the court rules in favor of a Massachusetts buffer zone law.
“We feel very confident that the existing case law supports patient safety zones, and that the courts will continue to rule that access to reproductive health care is a protected right,” said Covey.