States, Cities Mull 'Buffer Zones' Changes

July 31, 2014 — Various states and cities are evaluating their own abortion clinic security laws after a recent Supreme Court decision, Politico reports. Sixteen cities and three states have some type of buffer zone law, according to the National Abortion Federation

According to Politico, officials in Burlington, Vt., and Madison, Wis., have stopped enforcing their buffer zone laws, and the Portland, Maine, City Council repealed its 39-foot buffer zone earlier this month. Meanwhile, officials in Pittsburgh, several New York counties and New York City are continuing to enforce their buffer zones (Winfield Cunningham, Politico, 7/30).

New York City Law Draws Attention

In the Supreme Court's ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts identified New York City's law -- which makes it illegal to "follow and harass" patients within a 15-foot area around abortion clinics -- as a measure that "could in principle constitute a permissible alternative."

However, concerns remain about the constitutionality of the New York City measure, which also is "not particularly effective," according to Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts President Martha Walz.

Abortion-rights supporters note that the law does not include a designated protest-free zone, which still allows protesters to approach and harass patients. For example, some clinic workers said protesters give women food or water so the women unknowingly breach pre-operation protocols against eating and drinking and have to postpone an abortion (Mueller, New York Times, 7/30).