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Ohio Democrats Respond to Anti-Choice Violence With Buffer Zone Bill

Jenn Stanley

Ohio House Democrats introduced a bill this week that would create a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics and allow people to seek civil action against abortion protesters for harassment or intimidation.

Ohio House Democrats introduced a bill this week that would create a 15-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics and protect abortion providers and patients from harassment.

Under HB 408, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland and Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, it would be easier for abortion clinic doctors, employees, and patients to seek civil action against abortion protesters for harassment or intimidation.

“No one should have to endure abuse and harassment for seeking legal medical care,” Howse said in a statement. “Recent events have shaken some women in Ohio, but we are here today to assure women that we will do everything in our power to protect their right to access quality, comprehensive healthcare services. Healthcare choices can be difficult enough without undue harassment, intimidation and threats of violence. It is time this legislature stands up for women.”

Though some critics of the bill say that it’s unconstitutional, pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law, the bill’s sponsors say that its language was modeled after a New York law that was unaffected by the decision. HB 408 would create a buffer zone prohibiting anyone from approaching someone within that area who is entering the clinic.

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The bill’s supporters say that they know it has little chance of passing Ohio’s GOP-controlled house, but they hope the proposal gets people talking about violence and intimidation directed at abortion providers, along with the Ohio Republican Party’s anti-choice legislative agenda.

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio state legislature have pushed a staunch anti-choice agenda in recent years. Kasich signed a two-year budget bill in 2013 that included, among other measures, medically unnecessary licensing regulations for abortion clinics in the state. It resulted in the closure of half of Ohio’s outpatient abortion clinics. The previous year, Kasich had appointed Michael L. Gonidakis, president of the anti-choice organization Ohio Right to Life, to the State Medical Board.

Ohio’s house last month voted in favor of a bill to pull public funding from Planned Parenthood, which the organization says it uses for its Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program that aims to prevent infant mortality.

The introduction of HB 408 comes after a nationwide rash of clinic violence and anti-abortion rhetoric in the wake of a series of surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos made by the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress, which has worked closely with GOP legislators in attacking funding for Planned Parenthood.

At Wednesday’s press conference regarding the bill, Democratic lawmakers said that Kasich, the state’s Republican legislators, and Ohio Right to Life have made inflammatory and inaccurate statements that suggest Planned Parenthood centers engage in criminal activity.

Many abortion rights advocates have called on the Department of Justice to instruct the FBI to investigate clinic violence, like the recent shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, as acts of domestic terrorism.

“Threatening the lives of those who provide health care to people who seek it is quite simply terrorism,” Lepore-Hagan said at Wednesday’s press conference. “No rationale or reason can justify it. The use of violence and inflammatory rhetoric must end.”

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