Ben Johnson


Vermont town cracks down on pro-lifers, may make protests more visible

Ben Johnson

BURLINGTON, July 18, 2012, ( – The city of Burlington, Vermont, has told peaceful pro-life demonstrators they must stay at least 35 feet away from the city’s abortion clinic or face a fine of up to $500.

Monday’s passage was the final vote on the measure, which was first approved in May.

The ordinance, which passed Burlington city council by a vote of 13 to 1, established a buffer zone of a “35 foot radius extending in all directions” from all premises, including the driveway and parking lot.

Once again, Republican Paul Decelles cast the lone dissenting vote, noting the city did not apply a buffer zone to Occupy Wall Street protesters who mass in front of Citizens Bank.

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Offenders will be fined anywhere from $50 to $500, with fines tripling for every additional offense within a two-year period, maxing out at $500. 

Agnes Clift a Vermont pro-life activist, wrote in an e-mail obtained by that the counselors admitted there was no basis for the law.

“The city councilmen spoke of preventing ‘potential’ bad behavior, being proactive, and one even said he watched and that we were indeed very peaceful but that women felt intimidated anyway because we were too close,” she wrote. “We are generally around 10 [feet] or more from the clients.”

“There’s no need for the ordinance,” Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee, told in May.

Progressive City Councilor Rachel Siegel, who co-sponsored the measure, admitted Monday that hers was a “preventative measure.”

“People have been killed” – elsewhere – she said, before saying some pro-life tactics are “scary business.”

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.

Ironically, the ordinance may have the effect of making pro-life demonstrations more visible.

“The ordinance was amended so that we can stand in front of the hair parlor next door,” Clift wrote. “We would be much more visible in front of the hair dressers.”

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