CONCORD, N.H. — Supporters of a New Hampshire law creating "buffer zones" of up to 25 feet around facilities that provide abortions say lawmakers should enact other protections for women entering health clinics if they choose to repeal the buffer zone law.
"This was a solution for a very real problem that we were facing," Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told House lawmakers on Tuesday.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would repeal the buffer zone law, passed and signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan last year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional just days after New Hampshire's law went into effect, causing a U.S. District Court judge in New Hampshire to put a stay on the law. That means no New Hampshire clinics have put up a buffer zone.
Rep. Kathleen Souza, a Manchester Republican and co-sponsor of the repeal bill, said the repeal is needed to ward off a costly lawsuit and because harassment is not occurring outside such facilities. Instead, she said, people are acting peacefully. Creating a buffer zone violates the First Amendment rights of people who want to stand outside the clinics, she said.
"It's an affront to our state, our state's motto and the Constitution to have this on the books," she said.
But advocates say protecting the privacy of women seeking reproductive health care should be a priority.
The federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act prohibits people from blocking women's access to reproductive health care services. Frizzell suggested lawmakers create civil and criminal penalties for people who block the entrance to such facilities or threaten and intimidate staff and patients entering and leaving them.
Democratic Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester, who sponsored the original buffer zone bill, told the committee she believes it is constitutional because it's crafted more narrowly than the Massachusetts law. Any facilities wishing to enact a buffer zone would be required to put up signs marking the zone and consult with local officials. Soucy also urged the committee to consider women who are harassed while entering health care clinics.
"It's not a problem that will simply go away by removing this law from the books," she said.
The judiciary committee also heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit public money from going to organizations that provide abortions and another that would ban abortions after 21 weeks of pregnancy.