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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.

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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.

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