The Buffer Zone Story

Links to Leaven for the Loaf’s coverage of New Hampshire’s “buffer zone” law in 2014 (SB 319), subsequent legal action, and the repeal efforts in 2015 (HB 403), 2016 (HB 1570), 2017 (HB 589), 2019 (HB 124), and 2021 (HB 430).

As of April 2021, the buffer zone law remains in place after the failure of five repeal attempts. It has not been enforced.

2013: Laying the groundwork

Peaceful prayer witnesses outside Concord's Feminist Health Center
Peaceful prayer witnesses outside Concord’s Feminist Health Center

April 2: PPNNE is having “conversations” about no-protest zones outside NH facilities. “Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, acknowledged in a radio interview … 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.”

June 20: Thirty-five feet in theory and practice. Before any state-level action began, the city of Concord considered a petition to impose a 35-foot zone around “reproductive health facilities” within which peaceful pro-life witness would be prohibited.

August 15: Concord says no zone “at this time.”

October 9:  U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Massachusetts buffer zone law. “The U.S. Supreme Court is back in session, and among the cases it will decide by next summer is one from Massachusetts challenging that state’s 35-foot no-protest zone around abortion facilities [McCullen v. Coakley].” 

2014: NH legislation introduced & passed; Massachusetts law is struck down

Cathy Kelley and Warren Goddard, outside PP's Manchester facility
Cathy Kelley and Warren Goddard, outside PP’s Manchester facility

January 2: NH buffer zone bill (SB 319) introduced. “Senate bill 319 seeks to criminalize the act of entering or remaining within 25 feet of any entrance, exit, or driveway of a ‘reproductive health care facility.’

January 6: Roe supporter criticizes buffer zones: “The old ACLU got it right.

January 21: Notes on New Hampshire’s March for Life: The buffer zone bill (SB 319) was introduced this month. “With a buffer-zone bill now under consideration in Concord, I looked at where law-abiding pro-life witnesses might go if a 25-foot gag zone were to be imposed around the Feminist Health Center.”

January 29: Senate hearing on SB 319“This is all about safety and balance,” according to the chief sponsor

February 20: SB 319 passes the Senate. Notes on the debate as well as a roll call of the vote.

House hearing on SB 319: standing room only
House hearing on SB 319: standing room only

April 25: House hearing on SB 319Notes on NH House buffer zone hearing, SB 319. “I don’t understand why a particular business has more to say than I do about who gets to stand in the neighborhood.

April 30: House committee delays action after long debate. “This bill is aimed at one business. No one asked the neighbors.

May 7: House committee passes bill 12-7. Asked to consider an amendment to the bill to allow cities and towns to hold hearings on buffer zones within their municipalities, one pro-buffer legislator warned that hearings and notice might allow people to “hijack the process.

May 15: House passes SB 319 162-100, barely making a quorum. “Rep. Charlene Takesian (R-Pelham) spoke in favor of the bill, in accordance with her Judiciary Committee vote. She repeated her claim that there’s ‘a measure of violence’ in behaving nonviolently outside abortion facilities.

May 16: the House hard-linersHere’s a list of reps who voted for SB 319, against two useful amendments, and in favor of limiting debate – all in one day.

May 20: potential unintended consequences of a buffer zone law.

June 2: Chilling effect. “We already know that the size of a particular zone will be up to the individual abortion facility. Sounds like hours of zone enforcement will be up each facility, too, in the absence of clear posting of hours on the outside of a facility, visible from the edge of the ‘buffer.'”

Peaceful witness on the sidewalk outside Greenland, NH abortion facility.
Peaceful witness on the sidewalk outside Greenland, NH abortion facility.

June 10: Done deal. Governor Hassan calls the bill “narrowly tailored” and a “commonsense measure.”

June 19: Next time, bring chalk to the sidewalk. The same Civil Liberties Union that backs the buffer zone is now defending the right of “sidewalk chalkers” in Keene. “…I hope that the city’s response is not to broadly suppress peaceful speech in public places…

June 26: the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Massachusetts buffer zone law on which the NH law was modeled.

June 29: 2016 candidates react to Supreme Court decision.

July 8: Field guide to the buffer zone lawsuit. Seven New Hampshire activists are taking the state to court over the new law.

July 9: Attorney General won’t enforce buffer zone; PP agrees not to post zones for now.

July 10: Peaceful witness continues.

July 24: Judge issues restraining order against enforcement of buffer zone law. 

August 19: Londonderry gets it right when someone tries to interfere with safe passage for two women

September 12: Governor Hassan’s form letter to constituents opposed to the buffer zone.

September 23: Last sign of hope, first sign of mercy. “This is not a picket or a protest, and it IS legal.

November 5: After the election, the buffer zone team looks a bit thin.

December 19: Massachusetts taxpayers to pay $1.2 million to plaintiffs’ attorneys in buffer zone case.

2015: Legislators introduce buffer zone repeal bill

Buried sidewalk outside PP in Manchester NH, winter 2015.
Buried sidewalk outside PP in Manchester NH, winter 2015.

February 16: House hearing on repeal bill (HB 403). PP rep to committee: “I would be interested in talking to the committee about some more pragmatic ways that New Hampshire’s law could be enforced.

February 22: Mother Nature’s buffer. In the face of exceptionally-heavy snowfall, PP in Manchester tries to let snowbanks do what the unenforced buffer zone law can’t do.

March 12: Buffer zone repeal clears the House, 170-159. “Anti-repeal reps also trotted out the talking point that New Hampshire’s law is different from the failed Massachusetts law, hoping their listeners were ignorant of the fact the the chief difference is the size of the buffer. They also asked their colleagues to give the buffer zone law a chance to work. Well, that’s kinda tough, since a judge at the federal district court in Concord slapped a restraining order on the law months ago.

April 2: Senate hearing on repeal. Desperate supporters of the buffer zone try to equate peaceful pro-life witness with the murders of abortion workers.

May 14: Repeal tabled after tie vote in Senate

September 2: Seacoast Online reports “New Hampshire AG revives abortion buffer-zones lawsuit”

2016: second repeal attempt

March 4: House Judiciary Committee sends repeal bill, HB 1570, to House floor with narrow “ought to pass” recommendation.

March 10: House approves buffer zone repeal, 160-152. “It doesn’t get much closer.”

March 31: Federal court dismisses lawsuit against buffer zone law, since no abortion facility has attempted to post a zone and therefore there has been no enforcement. Plaintiffs filed an appeal with the First Circuit on April 18; First Circuit in January 2017 upheld lower court’s decision.

April 5: Senate hearing on repeal brings “local control” claims from unlikely sources.

May 5: Buffer zone repeal dies on tie vote in Senate.

2017: third repeal attempt

January 12: No, the buffer zone law has not been upheld.

February 4: House hearing on HB 589.

February 21: Committee votes ITL on HB 589.

March 9: House kills HB 589, ending the repeal effort for 2017.

2019: fourth repeal attempt

January 4: House hearing scheduled on HB 124.

January 15: House committee votes 14-4 to recommend “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 124.

January 31: HB 124 is killed in House.

2021: crossover deadline dooms repeal bill

February 8: Time to kill the buffer zone law.

February 25: Buffer zone vote delayed.

April 12: Buffer zone repeal falls victim to crossover deadline.