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Portland, Maine, Repeals 'Buffer Zone' Law After Supreme Court Ruling

July 8, 2014 — The Portland, Maine, City Council on Monday voted to repeal an ordinance that created a protest-free "buffer zone" around clinics that offer abortions, the AP/Washington Times reports (AP/Washington Times, 7/8).

The 7-1 vote came less than two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a similar Massachusetts law. City Council members, who unanimously approved the ordinance in November, said they remain committed to protecting clinic access and will develop alternative solutions that comply with the Supreme Court's ruling.

The ordinance created a 39-foot buffer zone around the entrances to a Portland Planned Parenthood clinic in response to regular protests from abortion-rights opponents (Miller, Portland Press Herald, 7/7). A group of protesters challenged the ordinance in court, but U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torreson said she would wait for "guidance" from the Supreme Court before issuing her ruling in the case (Koenig, Bangor Daily News, 7/7).

Torreson plans to rule this week, now that the Supreme Court has issued its decision, according to Portland's city attorney.

Alternative Measures

Although the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts buffer zone law, it said other measures are permissible to protect public safety without infringing on protesters' free-speech rights.

City Council member Cheryl Leeman said that councilors will simply "re-craft (the ordinance) so that hopefully it will pass legal muster." She added, "Please know that we still have the same concerns and that we are not going to let go of this issue."

The council voted to refer the issue to its Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, which was directed to develop a new policy in time for the full council to vote in mid-September.

The committee likely will consider measures in place elsewhere when restructuring the ordinance, the Portland Press Herald reports. For example, Colorado has a "bubble zone" that establishes an eight-foot floating perimeter around people entering clinics. Protesters are not permitted to enter the zone without obtaining the person's consent.