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N.H. House Committee Considers Bill To Repeal 'Buffer Zone' Law

February 12, 2015 — Supporters of a New Hampshire "buffer zone" law (SB 319) this week urged state lawmakers to enact other protections for women entering abortion clinics if the law is repealed, the AP/Concord Monitor reports (Ronayne, AP/Concord Monitor, 2/11).

Background

The law, which took effect in July 2014, created a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state. However, the state attorney general's office said it would not enforce the measure amid a federal lawsuit challenging whether the law is constitutional.

The suit was filed by a Christian legal group 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 last year's Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/17/14).

According to the AP/Monitor, a U.S. District Court judge in New Hampshire blocked enforcement of the law, and no clinics in the state have implemented a buffer zone.

Supporters Press for Additional Protections

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday heard testimony on proposed legislation (HB 403) that would repeal the buffer zone law.

During the hearing, state Rep. Kathleen Souza (R), who is co-sponsoring the repeal measure, said the bill is needed to avoid a costly legal challenge and because harassment does not occur outside of the state's clinics.

Separately, state Sen. Donna Soucy (D), who sponsored the buffer zone legislation, maintained that the law is constitutional because it is more narrowly tailored than the Massachusetts law. Further, she noted that clinic harassment would not "simply go away by removing this law from the books."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, recommended that state lawmakers institute civil and criminal penalties for individuals who block clinic entrances or threaten or intimidate patients and staff members while entering or leaving the clinics. According to the AP/Monitor, the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (PL 103-259) bars individuals from blocking women's access to reproductive health clinics (AP/Concord Monitor, 2/11).