Friday grab-bag: “buffer” zone in Concord, controversy in TX, NH’s 2014 candidates are lining up

 I hope you had a good Independence Day celebration, and that you’re lucky enough to get a good long weekend to go along with it.

The latest on a “buffer” zone in Concord: The petition to block First Amendment rights within 35 feet of the Feminist Health Center is on hold, as the Concord City Council has referred it to the city police and legal departments. Same goes for the counter-petition filed by pro-lifers, led by Ava Voissem. The matter will not be taken up at next Monday’s Council meeting. See the meeting agenda here, page 6, information item #8. The next Council meeting will be on August 12, and keep an eye on this blog and the Leaven for the Loaf Facebook page and Twitter feeds for updates.

What the heck’s with Texas? Leaven has offered a few posts (originals here and here, plus a re-post from a fellow blogger) about the attempts in Texas to pass a bill to stop post-20-week abortions and to impose ambulatory-surgical-care standards on abortion facilities. The legislature is now back in session to consider the bill yet again, after a filibuster and a mob scene prevented a timely vote a couple of weeks ago. An actual vote is not expected before Monday, but there has been plenty of extracurricular activity. Pro-lifers and abortion advocates alike have come to Austin to make sure legislators hear their respective messages. I pay attention to this because I think what’s happening in Texas will provide a template for abortion advocates’ future attempts to stop post-20-week bills elsewhere, including Concord. No, I have no inside information about potential disruption at the State House. I firmly believe that if the bill in Texas fails, though, abortion advocates will take whatever “worked” there to other states.

I’d hate to see messaging like this take hold:

  • Ethan Gehrke (@EthanGehrke) took this photograph, tweeted it, and watched it go viral.
    Pulling out all the stops in Texas. Twitter photo by @EthanGehrke.
    Pulling out all the stops in Texas. Twitter photo by @EthanGehrke.

    Children at demonstrations are nothing new, at least not to me – but seriously? Have one’s child carry a sign saying “If I wanted the government in my womb I’d f*** a senator”? This is a post-Gosnell bill. Apparently, the mom in question has issues with that. One reporter, Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic, speculated that the photo was doctored by pro-lifers. It wasn’t. (You might enjoy this post by the redoubtable Kevin Williamson, who knows a thing or two about journalism, calling Ms. Reeve to task.)

  • For truly over-the-top political theater, nothing this week beat the “Hail, Satan!” chants in Austin made by some of the opponents of the Texas bill. No fooling.  No word on whether any legislators found this persuasive.

November 2014 is only 16 months away, but nets are already being cast all over New Hampshire by potential candidates for office who are looking for money and endorsements. These are Republicans, for the most part, since the Dems seem happy with their incumbent governor & Congresswomen & senior Senator. Just as a teaser, three potential candidates have voting records or public statements on the life issues.

  • Jim Rubens of Etna is testing the waters – “exploring” is his term – to take on Jeanne Shaheen for U.S. Senate.  In this WMUR interview, he said he’d like to see a “temporary truce” on social issues. His chief claim to fame is guiding the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling (full disclosure: I’m a member), which is one reason New Hampshire remains casino-free.
  • Former state senator Gary Lambert is the subject of a Facebook campaign to draft him for the Second Congressional District race vs. incumbent Annie Kuster. He voted “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 1659, an informed consent bill, last year. He’s a very astute man to have earned a senate seat in Nashua usually occupied by a Democrat. He chose not to run for re-election last year.
  • State rep and former Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien is definitely in the Second Congressional District race. He has a sterling pro-life voting record. His take-no-prisoners style is the stuff of legend and will no doubt make for a lively primary.

Each of these men has a far more to his record than I can convey in a sentence or two, but as I said, this is a teaser. I’m not a truce-on-social-issues type, but I’m happy to hear from any candidate. Let the people know what they can expect when something like a Gosnell-prevention bill comes up.

UPDATE: no “buffer zone” hearing July 8

I received this information today from an attorney who has been following the matter: the petition to keep protesters & prayer witnesses at least 35 feet away from the Feminist Health Center in Concord was NOT put on the agenda for the July 8 Concord city council meeting.

I’ll post further information as I get it.

By Gail Finke: How Exactly Will the HHS Mandate Kill Religious Freedom?

990 imageReposted: When you cross Obamacare with IRS form 990, you get a tangle. What difference does it make whether your organization is for-profit, non-profit, religious, or non-religious? Quite a bit, says Gail Finke of Ohio in her post below. I don’t share her pessimism about the outcome, but her observations are worth noting. Don’t lose sight of the fact that more than 60 lawsuits and over 200 plaintiffs are challenging the mandate. This is uphill work, but work worth doing.

Click on the link: How Exactly Will the HHS Mandate Kill Religious Freedom?

Thirty-five feet, in theory & practice

What would a First-Amendment-blackout zone look like around the Feminist Health Center in Concord? There’s a petition circulating in town to bar protesters, including those in silent prayer, from getting within 35 feet of .. of what? The doors of “reproductive health centers”? Their clients? Their property lines? Perhaps that’ll be cleared up when the City Council hears the petition. [An earlier version of this post indicated the petition would be heard in July. As of July 3, the petition was not on the Council’s agenda for its July 8 meeting.]

Today, I took a few pictures outside the FHC to get an idea of where a prayer witness would have to go to be more than 35 feet away from FHC property. The first thing I noticed was that there is currently no sidewalk across the street, because of construction on a Main Street building.

35 feet across from the Feminist Health Center: no sidewalk.
35 feet across from the Feminist Health Center: no sidewalk.

With that construction underway and that section of sidewalk currently closed, the nearest open sidewalk across the street from the FHC is in front of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce office. I wonder if the Chamber knows that.

The FHC is on the northwest corner of Main & Thompson streets in Concord, with a sidewalk on two sides of the building. The frontage on Main is 26 of my steps long, which by a very sketchy measurement is about 57 feet wide. The  property line on Thompson Street is longer: 80 steps, or about 175 feet, from Main Street to the fence at the back of the parking lot. (This assessor’s map from the City of Concord web site is more accurate than my pace-by-pace estimate.)

Thirty-five feet from that back parking lot, measured along the north side of Thompson Street, would put protesters onto a neighboring driveway. As a practical matter, a 35-foot “buffer” in that direction would put protesters on State Street.

The sidewalk on the other side of Thompson Street would be off-limits. The street is only 10 of my paces wide, or about 21 feet. (At January’s March for Life, walkers were able to use that sidewalk, under the watchful eyes of Concord police and FHC supporters, without incident.)

FHC supporters greet pro-life marchers, January 2013.
FHC supporters greet pro-life marchers, January 2013.

What about the sidewalk directly in front of the FHC? Today, two pro-lifers were praying quietly, careful to block neither the sidewalk nor the walkway to the FHC’s front door.

Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.
Peaceful protest, blocking nothing.

To remain on that side of the street, a thirty-five foot zone would force these peaceful protesters either north, putting them in front of a New Hampshire Employment Security office, or south, putting them in front of what appears to be a small apartment building. Here’s the view from the Employment Security office:

West side of Main Street, 35 feet north of FHC.
West side of Main Street, 35 feet north of FHC.

An aerial view of the block, with a 35-foot speech-blackout zone superimposed, wouldn’t convey the whole story of what a “buffer” would look like, especially with the ongoing construction across from the Feminist Health Center. Photographs and aerial views also can’t address the underlying question of why there’s an attempt in Concord to interfere with the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters.

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.