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N.H. Senate Halts Effort To Repeal 'Buffer Zone' Law

N.H. Senate Halts Effort To Repeal 'Buffer Zone' Law

May 18, 2015 — The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday in a 12-12 vote failed to advance a bill (HB 403) that would repeal the state's "buffer zone" law (SB 319), effectively killing the proposed measure, the New Hampshire Union Leader reports.

The repeal bill had been passed by the state House (Rayno, New Hampshire Union Leader, 5/14).

Background on Buffer Zone Law

The law, which took effect in July 2014, created a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state. However, the state attorney general's office said it would not enforce the measure amid a federal lawsuit challenging whether the law is constitutional.

The suit was filed by a Christian legal group alleging that the measure violates antiabortion-rights protesters' right to free speech. The group, called the Alliance Defending Freedom, is the same organization that led a challenge resulting in last year's Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law.

A U.S. District Court judge in New Hampshire blocked enforcement of the law, and no clinics in the state have implemented a buffer zone (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).

Debate Over Repeal Measure

State Senate lawmakers who supported repealing the buffer zone measure cited the Supreme Court decision on the Massachusetts law to argue that New Hampshire's law also is unconstitutional, according to the Union Leader.

However, state Sen. Donna Soucy (D), the chief sponsor of the New Hampshire buffer zone legislation, said the Supreme Court did not declare all buffer zones unconstitutional, just the one in Massachusetts. She noted that since the high court's ruling, federal courts have upheld buffer zones in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Soucy added that the buffer zone is still needed, as incidents remain a problem at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester, N.H., that prompted lawmakers to pass the law (New Hampshire Union Leader, 5/14).