News Law and Policy

New Hampshire Senate Passes Buffer Zone Bill

Emily Crockett

The state senate rejected a committee recommendation that the bill be killed, and the measure to protect abortion patients now advances to the state house.

The New Hampshire senate passed a bill Wednesday that would establish a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics to protect patients from anti-choice protest activity.

The senate voted 15 to 9, with four Republicans joining all 11 Democrats to pass SB 319 after voting to reject the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recommendations to kill it. That committee voted 3 to 2 to kill the bill last week, but SB 319 ultimately survived due to strong support in the senate and New Hampshire’s unusual system of giving every bill a floor vote.

“New Hampshire cannot afford even one act of violence toward a woman and we should not tolerate the current harassment happening outside reproductive health care facilities in our state,” said Sara Persechino, policy and community relations director for NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, in a statement. “This commonsense legislation is a step in the right direction for protecting patients seeking safe, legal abortion care from violence, harassment, and intimidation.”

If the bill becomes law, it will affect all five of the state’s abortion clinics, but supporters of the bill cited weekly, escalating protest activity at one Planned Parenthood in Manchester as the key reason the bill is necessary. Patients filed more than 60 complaints since the beginning of 2013, and often complained of verbal harassment, intimidation, or passage blocking by anti-choice protesters.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

While a similar Massachusetts law is being challenged in the Supreme Court, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), said the New Hampshire bill “balances public safety and free speech,” and noted that state law already mandates buffer zones of ten feet from polling places and 150 feet from funerals.

The bill now moves to the state house.

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.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

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.

News Law and Policy

New Hampshire Council Restores Funding to Planned Parenthood

Teddy Wilson

The council’s 3-2 vote to approve the contract comes ten months after the executive body voted to reject a similar contract. In both cases Councilor Chris Sununu (R- Newfields) was the deciding vote.

The New Hampshire Executive Council voted Wednesday to reinstate a contract with Planned Parenthood amid pre-election politics.

The council’s 3-2 vote to approve the contract comes ten months after the executive body voted to reject a similar contract. In both cases Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) was the deciding vote. 

Sununu is a Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire. 

Council members Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) and Colin Van Ostern (D-Concord), a Democratic candidate for governor, also voted to approve the contract, while members Joe Kenney (R-Union) and David Wheeler (R-Milford) voted to reject the contract.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The $549,000 contract will fund services like physical exams, sexually transmitted infection tests, and breast and cervical cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers in New Hampshire.

There are five Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. All of them offer a range of other reproductive health-care services; only two provide abortion services.

“We are pleased that a bipartisan majority of the Council listened to their constituents and the majority of New Hampshire voters and chose to reverse course from last year’s vote,” Jennifer Frizzell, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said in a statement“Blocking access to health care at Planned Parenthood threatened the wellbeing of Granite State citizens.”

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England served 14,191 patients at the end of 2014, according to statistics provided by the organization. That number dropped by 21 percent, to 11,119, by the end of 2015 following the council vote to reject its funding request. 

Last year Sununu voted against approving the contract for Planned Parenthood citing surreptitiously recorded videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress.

The organization’s leader, David Daleiden, is facing a felony indictment in Texas for tampering with government documents.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan refused to investigate Planned Parenthood in the wake of the smear campaign. “We do not launch investigations in the state of New Hampshire on rumor,” Hassan said last August according to a local ABC affiliate. “We do not launch criminal investigations in the state of New Hampshire because somebody edits a tape.”

Hassan is a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and a crowded field of Democrats and Republicans are competing to succeed her in November.

Sununu defended his vote in January because of Hassan’s refusal to investigate Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and because of political pressure from reproductive rights advocates after his vote against the funding. “They proved themselves to be bullies and I don’t do business with bullies,” Sununu said, reported Seacoast Online.

However, Sununu’s tone changed Wednesday. “As [Planned Parenthood] is no longer under investigation, they should be treated like any other organization that comes before the council,” said Sununu in a statement.

Sununu told reporters after the vote that he decided not to allow politics to interfere with ensuring health care access in the state.

“I’m not going to let politics [influence] the importance of funds that go to help low-income women. I’ve been a supporter of these types of funds since the day I became a councilor, and I’m going to maintain my consistency with that support,” Sununu said, reported New Hampshire Public Radio.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut reportedly criticized Sununu for his vote. He remarked, according to New Hampshire Public Radio: “Clearly what this shows is we’ve got a lack of principle here. We need a governor who has principles that the voters can rely on.”