December 11, 2015 — Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday proposed a bill (HB 408) that would establish a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state, the Columbus Dispatch reports (Siegel, Columbus Dispatch, 12/9).
Federal law prohibits people from using the threat of force to harass or bar someone from accessing a health care facility. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws to protect people working at or visiting an abortion clinic.
The measure was proposed by state Reps. Stephanie Howse (D) and Michele Lepore-Hagan (D) (Borchardt, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/9). It would establish a 15-foot zone around abortion clinic entrances in which no one would be permitted to approach patients, staff or physicians who are entering or exiting the building.
In addition, the bill would make it easier for clinic staff and abortion providers to file civil lawsuits if they are harassed or intimidated (Columbus Dispatch, 12/9). According to Lepore-Hagan, individuals sometimes are reluctant to seek relief from such harassment because they do not want to endanger family members. Under the measure, however, individuals could use a pseudonym to seek relief.
Howse and Lepore-Hagan said the language used in the measure is based off of a New York law that was not affected by the recent Supreme Court decision overturning a buffer zone law in Massachusetts.
Howse and Lepore-Hagan said they do not expect the measure to pass in the state legislature, which in the last few years approved many abortion restrictions. However, they said they hoped the proposal would spark conversation about antiabortion-rights rhetoric, especially in light of the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Lepore-Hagan said, "Threatening the lives of those who provide healthcare to people who seek it is quite simply terrorism." She added, "No rationale or reason can justify it. The use of violence and inflammatory rhetoric must end" (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/9).
Howse said, "Anti-choice organizations have created a really hostile environment where people with extreme ideologies become motivated to do harm," adding, "We cannot stand by as women seeking basic health care are harassed and faced with the possibility of violence."
However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed concern that the bill might not be tailored narrowly enough in consideration of First Amendment rights. Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of ACLU of Ohio, voiced concerns about the part of the measure defining speech that does not serve a legitimate purpose, questioning who would define what is "legitimate."
Separately, state Rep. Greta Johnson (D) said, "There is a fine line you walk between the First Amendment and harassment ... This sends a message directly to those protestors and harassers that they will be held accountable" (Columbus Dispatch, 12/9).