News Abortion

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes Against Buffer Zone Bill

Emily Crockett

Despite the 3-2 committee vote against the patient safety zone, it could still pass in a floor vote because of New Hampshire's unusual legislative process.

The New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 Thursday against a bill that would establish a 25-foot “patient safety zone” to protect women seeking abortions from harassment by anti-choice protesters.

“We are outraged that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could not look past their personal abortion views to recognize the state’s vested interest in ensuring patients can safely access legally protected health care services,” said Sara Persechino, policy and community relations director with NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, in a statement.

The committee vote does not mean the buffer zone bill is dead, however, as every bill introduced in New Hampshire receives a floor vote. While an “inexpedient to legislate” vote, or recommendation to kill a bill, often dooms it on the floor, this bill has three Republican co-sponsors in a narrowly Republican-dominated chamber. Persechino told Rewire that she hopes for at least a 14-10 vote in favor of the bill.

At the committee hearing on the bill in late January, witnesses testified that anti-choice protesters are often aggressive and hostile in their actions toward patients and clinic escorts near health clinics. One woman described hiding in the stoop of a building for an hour after being followed.

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Opponents of patient safety zones claim that they violate First Amendment rights, or that protesters are merely “plump grandmas” who wish to talk to women in soft voices. But concerns for the safety of women seeking reproductive care have motivated several cities and states to pass buffer zone laws, given that some anti-choice protest activity can range from verbal or physical intimidation to bombings or shootings.

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