New Hampshire will join a growing number of states and municipalities that have passed restrictions on anti-choice protests at reproductive health-care clinics. On Thursday, the state senate voted on final passage of a bill that would create a 25-foot buffer zone around the five clinics in the state that provide abortion services.
The senate voted 13 to 10 to adopt changes made in the house
. The legislation now goes to the governor’s desk for signature or veto. A spokesperson for Gov. Maggie Hassan says the governor will sign the bill, and told New Hampshire Public Radio that Hassan believes women should have the ability to access reproductive health-care services without fearing for their safety.
SB 319 is a response to more than 60 patient complaints filed since the beginning of 2013 by patients of Planned Parenthood in Manchester; the complaints often included reports of verbal harassment, intimidation, or passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. The legislation had bipartisan support when it was introduced by Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester), including from Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro).
Despite not being recommended favorably by committee, the bill had passed the senate by a 15 to 9 margin that included four Republicans. The house then passed the bill with a 162 to 100 vote that included 13 Republicans voting for it to pass.
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Linda Griebsch, executive director of the Joan G. Lovering Health Center in Greenland, was one of more than two dozen supporters who testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. She said that so-called sidewalk counselors—anti-choice protesters who attempt
to persuade patients from entering clinics—engage in “nothing more than harassment and intimidation.”
Opponents of the legislation claim the new law is a “knee-jerk reaction.” Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) said during the floor debate that the bill would be an infringement on free speech. “Whether you agree with the speech or not, these folks have a right to be there,” said Carson.
Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, previously explained to Rewire that Republicans who might normally be characterized as anti-choice supported the bill. “Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation,” said Frizzell.
If signed into law, the bill will make New Hampshire
the 17th state with legislation protecting patients entering reproductive health-care clinics, and only the fourth to require a specific distance for protesters; the cities of Madison, Wisconsin, and Englewood, New Jersey, also both passed buffer zone policies this year.