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N.H. Senate Passes 'Buffer Zone' Law; House Approval Expected

N.H. Senate Passes 'Buffer Zone' Law; House Approval Expected

February 21, 2014 — The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday passed a measure (SB 319) that imposes a 25-foot buffer zone around the state's abortion clinics, New Hampshire Public Radio reports. The bill now heads to the state House, where it is expected to pass, according to New Hampshire Public Radio (Rogers, New Hampshire Public Radio, 2/19).

If enacted, the bill would bar anyone who is not heading to a destination from being on a "public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius of 25 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit or driveway." Individuals who do not obey the law would be warned once by a law enforcement officer and charged with a violation if they refuse to comply.

The state Senate approved the measure in a 15-9 roll call vote, with four Republican lawmakers joining 11 Democrats to vote in favor of the bill.

Balancing Free Speech, Abortion Access

The bill's supporters said it takes into account concerns raised in a legal challenge to a similar Massachusetts bill, which is before the Supreme Court (DiStaso, New Hampshire Union Leader, 2/19).

State Sen. Donna Soucy (D), the bill's lead sponsor, said that the bill "walks a very fine line between public safety, privacy rights, and free speech," adding that it addresses "behavior and location and not the content of speech" (New Hampshire Public Radio, 2/19). She added that changes could be made to the bill, either before or after it becomes law, if the Supreme Court strikes down the Massachusetts measure.

However, state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sharon Carson (R) said that if the bill becomes law, "[w]e'll run smack into a First Amendment violation."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Frizzell, a senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said, "A patient safety zone surrounding the entrances to reproductive health centers will ensure the privacy and dignity of patients, while improving public safety in communities where these health centers are located" (New Hampshire Union Leader, 2/19).