'Balance' Key To Protecting Abortion Clinic Access, Protesters' Free Speech, Editorial Says

'Balance' Key To Protecting Abortion Clinic Access, Protesters' Free Speech, Editorial Says

August 14, 2013 — Rather than focusing on "whether people support or oppose abortion," the debate over a proposed "buffer zone" around a Portland, Maine, Planned Parenthood clinic should "find the best balance between protesters' right to free speech and individuals' right to access health care -- and to access it safely," a Bangor Daily News editorial states.

The editorial explains that city officials are considering "creating a 35-foot 'patient-safety zone,'" around the clinic that would be off limits to protesters.

"It is possible to require protesters ... to stand back a distance that still allows them to clearly make their point," the editorial states, noting that the Supreme Court and federal courts have upheld the legality of buffer zones around abortion clinics "several times over the last couple decades." An upcoming Supreme Court case on Massachusetts' buffer zone law "will provide more legal guidance" on the subject, it adds.

While skepticism is warranted "any time demonstrators are distanced from the source of a protest," more than 150 patients at the Portland clinic indicated on a questionnaire that they felt "intimidated, harassed and unsafe" because of harassment from protesters, according to the editorial.

Although the protesters' "actions have been confrontational," they have not "risen to the level of crime," the editorial continues. However, "to a woman arriving for an appointment to talk about her birth control options, get tested for HIV or have a blood pressure screening, it doesn't really matter whether the words are criminal," because the woman still feels harassed, which "could constitute a barrier to services," the editorial states.

The editorial argues that a buffer zone law "should only be used as a last resort" and "must be sensible and tailored to the situation's specific geography." It concludes, "As members of the City Council's Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee develop recommendations for action, 'balance' will be one of the most important words (Hurowitz, Bangor Daily News, 8/12).