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Lawsuit Filed Against N.H. 'Buffer Zone' Law

July 9, 2014 — A Christian legal group on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging a New Hampshire "buffer zone" law that was enacted last month, alleging that the measure violates antiabortion-rights protesters' right to free speech, the AP/Boston Herald reports (AP/Boston Herald, 7/8).

The law (SB 319) created a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state. Although there are five clinics in New Hampshire that offer abortion services, the legislation was created specifically to address protests at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/11).

Lawsuit Details

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the suit, is the same group that led a challenge resulting in a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts "buffer zone" law. The high court said Massachusetts can use other means to deal with protests that are less restrictive of free speech.

In the New Hampshire suit, filed on behalf of several antiabortion-rights groups, ADF alleges the state law unfairly permits abortion clinic escorts to enter the zone but not abortion-rights opponents who wish to speak to patients.

William Hinkle, a spokesperson for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), said the attorney general is considering the suit but that the state is confident that the law is constitutional. The New Hampshire law differs from the Massachusetts measure in that it gives clinics flexibility to determine the size of their buffer zone, as long as it does not exceed 25 feet.

No Zones in Place

As of Tuesday, no abortion clinics had established a buffer zone, according to the AP/Herald.

Jennifer Frizzell, vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood Northern New England, said there are no plans to set up zones at any of its health centers. The group is "continu[ing] to evaluate the Supreme Court ruling, as well as patient protection laws around the country, to ensure that women can continue to make their own health care decisions without judgment from strangers and abusive and physically threatening protesters and without fear of harassment or intimidation," she said (AP/Boston Herald, 7/8).