HB1625: repealing the prohibition on entering or remaining on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility.
Committee: House Judiciary
Date: February 9, 2022
Reproductive health care providers, patients, and facilities are frequently the targets of violence and harassment, ranging from vandalism to threats to deadly attacks. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has been compiling statistics on incidents of violence and disruption against abortion providers for over 40 years and its 2020 statistics reflected an escalation in the number of reported clinic invasions, obstructions, blockades, and targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls -- despite stay-at-home orders in some states throughout the spring and public health guidance to avoid group gatherings. NAF also recorded a significant increase in activities aimed at disrupting services, intimidating providers and patients, and preventing patients from obtaining the health care they need. Recent years have also seen more incidents of violence, with devastating effects: in November 2015, three people were murdered and nine injured when Robert Dear brought an assault-style rifle to a Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs and opened fire. On December 31 2021, a Planned Parenthood in Knoxville, Tennessee was destroyed by an arson attack.
We know that as states move to ban abortion across the country, anti-abortion protestors will travel to states that still allow abortion care - and we need to ensure the safety of patients and providers.
NEW HAMPSHIRE BACKGROUND
Reproductive health centers in New Hampshire have never been free of picketing and protest activity. However, in following national trends, in the past few years, the volume and frequency of protests have increased and the escalating harassment and more intense tactics that protestors are willing to use have resulted in increased patient harassment and the increased need for on-site security. Currently, PPNNE in Manchester pays thousands per year to hire a private security detail. Obstructing the driveway, blocking on-street parking spaces, photographing patients and staff, and verbal assaults have become routine complaints from our patients and their family members, and neighbors who live in the area. Protestors gather in front of the entrance and create barriers for patients seeking to access the health center and they invade the privacy of those who do not want to engage in dialogue while entering or exiting.
Obstructing the driveway to the health center is extremely problematic, causing patients to become distracted, which can and has led to minor car accidents. Recently, PPNNE installed a new fence to help patients navigate the congested driveway. While the fence is better for public safety, it has completely changed the privacy around the parking lot and now allows protesters to have full visibility into the parking lot. PPNNE is forced to trade patient privacy for public safety, when everyone deserves to have both.
To address these public safety and health center access problems, the New Hampshire legislature enacted Senate Bill 319 in 2014, authorizing the establishment of patient safety “buffer” zones of “up to” 25 feet surrounding the entrances to reproductive health facilities. The law was not mandatory; it allows each facility and each community the flexibility to narrowly tailor a zone in accordance with local factors. Just weeks after Senate Bill 319 was signed into law, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in McCullen vs. Coakley 134 S.Ct 2518 which changed the legal landscape for balancing the competing constitutional rights involved.
NEW HAMPSHIRE’S LAW IS NO LONGER THE SUBJECT OF LITIGATION:
While New Hampshire’s law was challenged based on the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen, the US District Court dismissed the challenge to New Hampshire’s “Buffer Zone” case in 2016. Judge LaPlante ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing in the Mary Rose Reddy et al v. Joe Foster et al case. In 2017, this decision was reaffirmed by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
NEW HAMPSHIRE’S LAW IS DISTINGUISHABLE FROM THE LAW STRUCK DOWN BY THE US SUPREME COURT
Not all buffer zones are unconstitutional. The Massachusetts Law established a mandatory buffer of 35-feet and treated all facilities in the state in an identical fashion, whereas New Hampshire’s law allows for a discretionary buffer and only enables a health center to create a patient safety zone as the facts and circumstances dictate.
AS RECENTLY AS LAST YEAR, THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT LEFT IN PLACE A PITTSBURG BUFFER ZONE.
The Supreme Court recently chose to leave in place a buffer zone law in Pennsylvania. The law had previously been upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. As violence and harassment towards abortion providers and health centers has escalated, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) has considered how best to protect its patients and staff. The Manchester Health Center has undergone modernizations to the building, including changes to the parking lot, which just wrapped up last year. PPNNE meets regularly with local law enforcement to help explore ways to better protect patient safety and access. We need to continuously reassess every option to consider how best to protect our patients, providers, and staff. Now is not the time to take tools out of our toolbox that will eliminate options for protecting patient privacy and public safety.
We urge the House Judiciary Committee to Maintain a Commitment to Patient Safety and Access and Vote “Inexpedient to Legislate” on HB 1625
For more information contact: Kayla Montgomery, VP of Public Affairs, [email protected]
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) is the largest provider of reproductive and sexual health care across the State of New Hampshire. We serve New Hampshire residents through 6 health centers in Claremont, Derry, Exeter, Keene, Manchester and White River Junction, VT. Last year we saw more than 10,000 patients at these sites. PPNNE was named a 2021 Guardian of Excellence Award® winner by Press Ganey, the national leader in health care consumer and workforce engagement. Press Ganey recognizes PPNNE as a top-performing health care organization, achieving the 95th percentile or above for performance in patient experience, out of more than 20,000 medical practices. Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund (PPNHAF) is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in New Hampshire. The Action Fund engages in educational and electoral activity, including voter education, grassroots organizing, and legislative advocacy.