City approves ‘buffer zone’ around Planned Parenthood clinic: pro-life activists plan to sue
PORTLAND, ME, November 19, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A New England city faces a lawsuit from pro-life activists over a new 39-foot “buffer zone” around its only Planned Parenthood facility.
On Monday, the Portland, Maine City Council approved the buffer in response to claims by Planned Parenthood employees and patients that women entering the facility faced threats and harassment.
Police who have observed the pro-life protests outside the clinic, as well as police hired by Planned Parenthood for security purposes, have reported no arrests of protesters. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the Council that while some people have felt “harassed or threatened,” no crimes have been committed.
Pro-life attendees at the meeting said they are acting to protect the unborn. “Who will speak for these unborn children?” asked one resident, Derek Abbott, who belongs to the Pro Life Missionaries of Maine. The pro-life protests have included graphic images of aborted babies.
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One surprise opponent of the buffer zone was Planned Parenthood supporter Doug Emerson. Emerson, who says he is a patient of Planned Parenthood, said he is opposed to the pro-life message but defended the constitutional right of the pro-life protesters to speak on a public sidewalk. He said he is against “the restriction of space.”
According to Jon Scruggs, the Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the buffer zone “was obviously intended to take away rights and squelch pro-life speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.” He told LifeSiteNews.com that “pro-life advocates shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs. They have the same First Amendment rights as anyone else in America.”
Maine is the third New England state that has recently seen significant debate over the First Amendment as it relates to pro-life activism. A Burlington, Vermont law put a 35-foot zone around a Planned Parenthood clinic. Pro-life activists challenged that law in court, but the law was upheld as constitutional in February. Massachusetts is fighting to preserve a statewide buffer zone of 35 feet that was enacted in 2007 and upheld in January by the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge from the buffer zone’s opponents.
Both the Maine and Vermont buffer zones could live or die based upon how the Court rules on the Massachusetts case.