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N.H., Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Laws in Legal Crosshairs After Supreme Court Ruling

N.H., Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Laws in Legal Crosshairs After Supreme Court Ruling

July 17, 2014 — The New Hampshire attorney general's office will not enforce a state "buffer zone" law (SB 319) that took effect last week while a federal judge considers a related lawsuit over the law's constitutionality, the Portsmouth Herald reports (Dinan, Portsmouth Herald, 7/15).

The law created a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state.

Legal Background

Last week, a Christian legal group filed a federal lawsuit against the law, alleging that the measure violates antiabortion-rights protesters' right to free speech. The group, called the Alliance Defending Freedom, is the same organization that led a challenge resulting in a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts "buffer zone" law.

The attorney general is confident that the law is constitutional, according to a spokesperson for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/9).

According to the Herald, an initial hearing over the lawsuit is scheduled for July 25 in U.S. District Court. The case involves the Joan G. Loverling Center, a women's health center in Greenland, N.H. (Portsmouth Herald, 7/15).

Group Mulls Challenge to Pittsburgh Law

In related news, Matt Bowman, senior counsel at ADF, said that he is "looking very closely into the possibility" of filing suit against an ordinance in Pittsburgh that created a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Meanwhile, Tim McNulty, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill Peduto, said city officials intend to keep enforcing the law. He said that the law is "a lot different from the Massachusetts zones" and "narrowly tailored enough to stand after the Supreme Court decision" that invalidated the Massachusetts law.

According to Planned Parenthood, harassment reports have declined substantially since the ordinance was enacted. Planned Parenthood spokesperson Aleigha Cavalier said, "It allows the protesters to say what they want to say, and allows our patients to get in the door without worrying about someone blocking it" (Smeltz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 7/15).