News Abortion

Patient Safety Zone Law Passes in Portland, Maine

Emily Crockett

The ordinance, which took effect immediately, protects patients of the city’s only abortion clinic, who have said they faced a weekly “gauntlet” of harassment from protesters with the Pro-Life Missionaries of Maine.

On Monday night, the city council of Portland, Maine, unanimously passed a law requiring a 39-foot “buffer zone” around the city’s only abortion clinic, which will protect patients of the Planned Parenthood clinic from harassment by anti-choice protesters.

Cheers erupted when the ruling was announced at the hearing, which was packed with supporters wearing pink t-shirts. More than 120 supporters attended, with 27 testifying in favor of the buffer zone, Eric Covey, grassroots organizer with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told Rewire.

The patient safety zone ordinance was passed as an amendment with an emergency preamble, which means it took effect immediately.

“As of right now, patients won’t have to deal with intimidation, harassment, or concern for safety while accessing quality reproductive and sexual health-care services at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England,” said Covey.

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Patients and employees of the Planned Parenthood have said they faced a weekly “gauntlet” of harassment from protesters with the Pro-Life Missionaries of Maine. Patients frequently canceled appointments and reported fearing for their safety, despite a police presence on-site.

One local business owner, Mike Fink, closed his restaurant because of the incessant protest activity. “It didn’t make sense to keep selling sandwiches with kids holding posters of dead babies out front,” he told Rewire last month. Fink had also led counter-protests against the anti-choice activists.

City Council Member Ed Suslovic said in the meeting that the ordinance is a “very careful balancing act” between protesters’ rights to free expression and the patients’ rights to safely access health care.

Buffer zone laws have been upheld three times by the Supreme Court, but the legality of Portland’s ordinance could depend on whether the court rules in favor of a Massachusetts buffer zone law.

“We feel very confident that the existing case law supports patient safety zones, and that the courts will continue to rule that access to reproductive health care is a protected right,” said Covey.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

With Buffer Zones and Decline of ‘Rescues’ Came Anti-Choice Legal Boom, Book Argues

Eleanor J. Bader

University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.

There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.

As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.

Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damage at abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.

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The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.

Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.

But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.

This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.

According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.

By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.

The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.

What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.

The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.

The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.

The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Conservatives Try New Tactic to Discredit Fetal Tissue Research

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

But what they need to do is give up their fight against it.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
Republicans absolutely refuse to give up on their campaign to discredit fetal tissue research.
Attorneys in Florida are challenging portions of a new anti-abortion law that tries to block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, mandate additional inspections of abortion clinics, and change the definitions of pregnancy trimesters.
So Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial is moving forward. At least for now.
Meanwhile, some states are reconsidering statutes of limitations in rape cases.
This look at the costs to children and states when a parent is incarcerated is just devastating.
A federal judge ruled Portland, Maine can’t use its noise ordinance to restrict clinic protesters’ access to a local Planned Parenthood.
In other news about clinic protests, a federal appeals court revived a challenge to a Pittsburgh buffer zone ordinance.
Broadly explores how Texas clinic closures are affecting women who are undocumented.
Colorado State University was not illegally using tax dollars to subsidize abortions, ruled a Colorado judge.
Turns out that even the women on the Supreme Court get interrupted more than their male colleagues during oral arguments.
The U.S. women’s soccer team continues to fight for equal playing conditions, this time arguing they have the right to strike if concerns about poor playing conditions and equal pay are not addressed.
Speaking of pushing equality forward, this transgender veteran sued the barber who refused to do their hair.
Justice Stephen Breyer may be driving the Supreme Court’s compromise efforts in Zubik v. Burwell, not Justice Anthony Kennedy as Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times previously thought.