Burlington, Vt., City Council Advances Ordinance To Create Buffer Zones Around Women's Clinics

May 23, 2012 — The Burlington City Council on Monday voted 13-1 to advance an ordinance that would create a 35-foot buffer zone around reproductive care clinics to protect patients and staff from protesters, the Burlington Free Press, reports. The ordinance now goes to the Ordinance Committee for review, according to the Free Press.

Supporters of the resolution said protesters outside of the clinics are verbally and physically confrontational. Council member Bram Kranichfeld (D) said the current laws "are reactive, not preventive," adding that confrontations could have "a chilling effect" on women's legal access to health services.

Council member Paul Decelles (R), who cast the only vote against the ordinance, said there is not enough evidence to support claims that protesters have disrupted or intimidated patients. He added that the measure is too selective and does not account for protests at other sites, such as banks.

Several individuals opposed to the rule feared it would infringe on the right to free speech. However, Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School, said the ordinance likely would survive any legal challenges.

"The government's rationale in this case is that it's trying to protect welfare and safety -- not the suppression of speech, but the secondary effects of what takes place at that place and time," Hanna said. The ordinance still provides "a way for people opposed to abortion to get their word out," she added (Baird, Burlington Free Press, 5/21).