Creating a medical freedom zone will ensure patient safety while protecting free speech
This morning, providers, patients, and supporters all testified in favor of Representative Jay McCreight’s bill LD 1899, "An Act To Ensure Safe Entry and Access for People Seeking Health Care and Other Constitutional Rights.” The measure would create an optional medical safety zone outside the entrances of reproductive health care providers offices to make it safer for staff to go to work and patients to receive care without infringing upon First Amendment rights and is supported by Attorney General Aaron Frey.
Outside its Portland health center, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England continues to encounter noise violations and during COVID patients dealt with increased harassment from protesters as they entered the health center. Examples of harassment and intimidation patients have reported include blocking the door, physically touching, obstructing patients’ ability to walk along the sidewalk, videotaping, verbal harassment, and violating mask and social distancing rules and guidelines.
Meredith Healey, Director of Health Care Delivery for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England
“Our patients’ healthcare can be significantly compromised by the protesters’ activities. At times the interference from protestors yelling from the sidewalk can cause our patients increased anxiety and stress. This anxiety can cause patients to have elevated pulse and blood pressure, sometimes resulting in the need to increase amounts of medication to keep them comfortable. The disruptive protest activity is intended to and does directly impact the provision of care itself – because protesters yelling, shouting, aggressive preaching, can be heard in the exam rooms, patients can have difficulty focusing on critical information that is pertinent to their care including risks, benefits, alternatives to procedures, and post op information. For our patients who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence, or other traumatic events, the disruption from the protestors can evoke or trigger past traumatic experiences further compromising their wellbeing.”
Sheera LaBelle, PPNNE volunteer
“Abortion protestors routinely come every Friday morning…Most of the protestors stand facing the entranceway and along the building itself, creating a gauntlet, for patients and passersby to walk through – sometimes with difficulty…They are harassing and bullying. They frequently “cross the line” – you shouldn’t be screamed at, yelled at, humiliated or harassed to get to a care provider.”
Richard Ward Jr., Maine College of Art and Design student, resident of the MECA&D dorm above the PPNNE Portland health center
“ Because Planned Parenthood is in this building, the protestors seem to target anyone who exits or enters the building regardless of Planned Parenthood patient status, a resident of the building, or a random passerby who does not enter or exit the building. I've lived in this community for almost 5 years; very aware of the protestors and witnessed many things regarding these protestors and I believe that, for the safety of Planned Parenthood patients (especially the patients), and anyone who happens to walk by or around, enter or exit this building, that there should be a protesting distance limit to protect those around 443 Congress Street in Downtown Portland.”
Mary Lou Michael, PPNNE volunteer
“At least 50% of the time I was a Greeter, the clinic would need to call the Portland Police Department because patients and staff on the 2nd floor could hear the shouting. As soon as the police arrived, the protesters would quiet down and as soon as the police departed they would resume shouting.”
The Judiciary Committee will hold a work session on the bill on Tuesday, March 8, at 9 a.m.