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Antiabortion-Rights Protests Increase After Portland, Maine, Ends 'Buffer Zone'

Antiabortion-Rights Protests Increase After Portland, Maine, Ends 'Buffer Zone'

August 18, 2014 — Antiabortion-rights protests have increased "in number and activity" outside a Portland, Maine, Planned Parenthood clinic since the City Council repealed a "buffer zone" ordinance, the Bangor Daily News reports (Koenig, Bangor Daily News, 8/15).

The Portland City Council in November unanimously approved an ordinance that created a 39-foot, protest-free zone around entrances to the clinic, which was facing regular demonstrations from abortion-rights opponents. However, the council voted 7-1 to repeal the ordinance less than two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a similar Massachusetts law (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/8).

Increased Protests

Nicole Clegg, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England's vice president of public policy, said PPNNE had to request help from police on a recent weekend, when protesters blocked sidewalks near the clinic's entrance and screamed loud enough to result in a warning from a police officer on duty. She added that demonstrations have been "escalating" since the Supreme Court decision.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck confirmed that the number of protesters had increased and that some had received warnings, which they followed. He said, "Case law has shown that it is a civil rights violation if you can hear the protests from inside the examination room," which is "what Planned Parenthood reported was happening."

City of Portland spokesperson Jessica Grondin said city staff members are investigating alternatives to the buffer zone and expect to deliver recommendations at a City Council committee meeting on Sept. 9 (Bangor Daily News, 8/15).

Antiabortion-Rights Protesters Sue

Meanwhile, antiabortion-rights protesters continue to pursue a lawsuit they filed after the City Council initially approved the buffer zone last year, the Portland Press Herald reports.

A day after the City Council repealed the ordinance, the city filed a motion requesting that U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen dismiss the case because "there is no longer a controversy here." The city on Tuesday filed a final legal brief in support of its dismissal request (Dolan, Portland Press Herald, 8/14).

However, the protesters have requested that the case go forward and want the judge to award them $1 in damages as a symbolic measure to demonstrate the "constitutional violations" and "harm" suffered by the plaintiffs. Erin Kuenzig, an attorney for the protesters, said a ruling in their favor would "set a precedent and would be persuasive authority for a judge to consider if Portland decides to enact a similar buffer zone ordinance" (Bangor Daily News, 8/15).