PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones outside NH facilities

PPNNE's Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.
PPNNE’s Manchester NH facility. Photo: Facebook/40 Days for Life.

Update: New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a statewide buffer-zone bill into law on June 10, 2014.

Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, acknowledged in a radio interview this morning that PPNNE is looking into what she calls a “patient safety zone” or “buffer” outside PPNNE’s New Hampshire facilities. She referred specifically to the Manchester office, which she said had seen “increasing amounts of activity, targeting and intimidating clients.” She added, “we’re just having preliminary conversations” about potential city ordinances and state legislation.

Frizzell was a guest on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange, hosted by Laura Knoy. Ashley Pratte, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, joined Frizzell and Knoy to discuss “The Shifting Landscape of Abortion Law.” (Program audio here.)

“There was a relatively significant case recently out of Massachusetts where a 35-foot buffer zone to protect patients entering and exiting clinics was upheld through [an] appellate court,” said Frizzell, adding that the court found “appropriate balance of free speech rights of protesters and the need for patients to have safe access, uninterrupted, to get into and out of health care facilities.” PPNNE’s Burlington, Vermont facility has a 35-foot buffer zone as well. Such zones normally prohibit standing, marching, praying, or protesting within a specified distance of an abortion facility.

Manchester’s Planned Parenthood office on Pennacook Street was recently the site of a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, with up to 150 people at a time praying outside the facility during the campaign that ended on Palm Sunday. Smaller groups of people continue to pray outside the building, placing particular emphasis on Thursdays, when surgical abortions are reportedly performed at the facility (see prayforlifecenter.org).

Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) sponsored an informed consent bill in the New Hampshire House this year. I asked her this afternoon to comment on Frizzell’s remarks, and she quickly asked, “Violation of free speech?” I took her question to a New Hampshire attorney with experience in First Amendment cases. His response was unequivocal: “This [would be] an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech and assembly.” He noted that New Hampshire has “lots of great cases” relative to protesters’ First Amendment rights, stemming from the arrests of members of the Clamshell Alliance who protested the construction of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the 1970s and 1980s.

Catherine Kelley, who prays outside PP’s Manchester office and is one of the organizers of the Pray for Life Center, was equally blunt this afternoon. “We are absolutely opposed to any type of buffer or bubble zone. ‘Live Free or Die’ means we should be free to speak for and about life anywhere and anytime. I knew this was coming when PP got it passed in Vermont.”

Frizzell did not specify with whom these “conversations” about buffer zones are being held. Most buffer zones are enacted through municipal ordinance.

Time for NH’s Congressional Delegation to Affirm the First Amendment

The President and the federal department of Health and Human Services, emboldened by the pathetic retreat on this issue by most Republican candidates for office last fall, are still pushing the HHS mandate as part of the “Affordable” Care Act. Cosmetic tweaks have not improved it. If an individual has religious objections to contraception, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs, she should not be forced to pay to provide them to anyone. That’s basic First Amendment protection. The HHS mandate, not yet enforced but on the way, violates that. The President is still seeking to put his health plan ahead of the First Amendment.

More action needed? Absolutely.

I recommend www.call2conscience.com for a quick link to New Hampshire’s federal legislators. Tell them to put conscience protections into ANY appropriations bill. No conscience protection? Then cut off funds to enforce the mandate. Senator Ayotte has been very respectful so far of the need for conscience protection; Sen. Shaheen has not. Reps. Shea-Porter and Kuster were not in office last year and so have not been heard from officially on this. Time for them to go on record.

For more background, check out some of my posts from last year on the mandate: It Takes a Village to Kill a Mandate; Mandate Rationale? Try Checking Under the Penumbra; and Go Back to the Drawing Board.