Vermont ordinance could ban pro-lifers from protesting at Planned Parenthood clinic
BURLINGTON, VERMONT, May 22, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The city council of Burlington, Vermont, has passed a new ordinance that could have the effect of banning pro-life protesters from exercising their right to protest in front of the town’s Planned Parenthood facility.
On Monday, council members voted to establish a 35-foot “safety zone” about the town’s abortion clinic by a vote of 13-1. Republican Paul Decelles cast the lone dissenting vote. The measure now goes to a three-member Ordinance Committee for final wording.
Ten council members supported the measure going in, although the Burlington Free Press reports pro-life and pro-choice citizens who attended the more than hour-long meeting at Contois Auditorium were “roughly equal.”
Jill Krowinski, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) told the meeting sidewalk protesters had been loud and threatening, and “we need help with this.”
However, Burlington police Deputy Chief Andi Higbee said the department has dispatched officers to the clinic only twice to respond to reports of “aggressive protesting,” and no one has been arrested, ticketed, or cited with any violation.
“There’s no need for the ordinance,” Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life Committee, told LifeSiteNews.com. She said the last arrest occurred sometime in the 1980s at the facility’s old location on Mansfield Avenue.
Vermont Right to Life conducts informational protests on Saturdays, instead of Wednesdays, the day the Burlington clinic performs abortions. The group, composed largely of nuns and post-abortive women, are counseled not to respond to hecklers who shout at them while they are praying the rosary.
“The whole thing is just a concocted story,” Beerworth said. “All that said, that hasn’t stopped the city of Burlington from passing the ordinance.”
The new policy could have the effect of ending all protests in front of the abortion facility. “This 35-foot bubble zone may take the protesters out completely,” Beerworth told LifeSiteNews, adding that the parking lot across the street from the clinic – the nearest site outside the 35-foot radius – was being leased.
“We’re not going to sit around and have our First Amendment rights trampled,” she said. “We will see what the final product is. We’re not going to take it. ”
That raises issues of the ordinance’s constitutionality. Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School, warned that the measure could be struck down if the U.S. Supreme Court took a “First Amendment absolutist position.” However, council members Bram Kranichfeld warned that protesters’ free speech would have “a chilling effect” on women seeking an abortion.
“This is a publicity stunt I think,” Beerworth told LifeSiteNews. “They’ve been defunded by Maine and New Hampshire, so Vermont is their hope.”
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Planned Parenthood – which performed the vast majority of abortions in the state – has seen a dip in business. She noted the group is moving a West Lebanon, New Hampshire, clinic to greener pastures in Vermont.
Vermont allows nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse midwives to perform abortions.
The Alan Guttmacher Institutes notes, “Vermont does not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions—such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions—often found in other states.”
Beerworth says the group will continue to protest at the clinic as it awaits the ordinance’s final wording – but she is not hopeful her group’s constitutional rights will be upheld.
“In Vermont, Planned Parenthood is the fourth branch of government,” she said.