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NH Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

By Michael Rosenfield, WBZ-TV New Hampshire Bureau Chief
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Michael Rosenfield is the New Hampshire Bureau Chief for CBS Boston’s...
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CONCORD, NH (CBS) – Demonstrations outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester, N.H., have led state lawmakers to craft a bill that will create buffer zones outside New Hampshire facilities that perform abortions.

The New Hampshire House and Senate have passed the legislation with bipartisan support, and Gov. Maggie Hassan says she will sign it into law.

Planned Parenthood has logged some 60 complaints over the past 15 months.

Women say they’ve been harassed and intimidated, some called “baby killer” and “murderer” as they entered the clinic.

“But now the patients will have the right to be left alone with a little bit of space so their privacy and their dignity can be honored as they come and go from seeking reproductive health care,” said Jennifer Frizzell of Planned Parenthood.

The legislation requires people protesting outside abortion clinics to be at least 25 feet from the front entrance, but anti-abortion groups say buffer zones will make it more difficult to get their message across without becoming loud.

“They will place us at a distance where we would not be able to speak to people without raising our voice,” said Susan Clifton, who often tries to speak with people outside the clinics. “And we are a very gentle, peaceful group that comes here.”

Clifton said the vigils outside clinics often work in persuading women to change their minds.

Lawmakers who oppose buffer zones say it’s a constitutional issue.

“And I voted that way because this is really about a freedom of speech issue,” said state Sen. Sharon Carson, a Republican from Londonderry.

State Sen. Dave Boutin, a Republican from Hooksett, said “People have a right to be out on public property to express their First Amendment views.”

Conservative groups agree.

“I think that this is a direct infringement on the First Amendment rights of the people who stand in front of these facilities in silent prayer,” said Bryan McCormack, executive director of New Hampshire Cornerstone.

But those who crafted the bill say it should work for everyone.

“I think it will allow both sides to do what they want to do,” said state Sen. Donna Soucy, a Democrat from Manchester, who was the prime sponsor of the bill. “One side to express their opinion and the other to access health care.”

Soucy said she received numerous complaints from constituents who ran into a number of issues as they tried to enter abortion facilities.

Once the governor signs the legislation, the bill will go into effect in 30 days.

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