Battle Over Maine Clinic May Drive Portland to Consider a Buffer Zone

As two sides begin to draw more massive crowds, one city council considers passing a buffer zone to protect women.

Prochoice and antichoice protesters outside the Portland clinic. (Noah Hurowitz/BDN)

The city of Portland, Maine, is considering a possible bubble zone to keep anti-choice activists further from a Planned Parenthood affiliate that has become the epicenter of weekly protests.

The clinic, which provides abortions, has been under attack by protesters affiliated with the Center for Bioethical Reform, a group well known for its doctored, graphic anti-abortion posters, as well as their “Genocide Awareness” campaigns that primarily target college campuses. Acting as the public face of the clinic assault is Leslie Sneddon, who heads the New England chapter of the group as well as Pro-Life Missionaries of Maine.

Mike Fink, a local businessman who owns a restaurant and pawn shop close to the clinic has said he has grown unhappy with the protesting in front of the clinic, which he believes has become more and more aggressive. Fink claims self-proclaimed sidewalk counselors have begun harassing those they encounter on the sidewalks, even if they aren’t clinic clients, as well as featuring their massive, graphic photo-shopped signs and posters. To discourage the protesters, Fink has organized his own counter protest, and as a result close to 100 people were at the clinic arguing for an against abortion rights.

Usually, CBR speaks proudly of their use of graphic images to try to persuade those that abortion is evil. Yet in both mentions of Sneddon’s protests within religious news outlets, the graphic images go both unmentioned and unshown. In fact, in the most recent article in the Christian News Network, of the multitude of pictures shown from the protests, almost all graphic images are noticeably and conspicuously absent. Even the article itself subtly avoids mentioning the posters, instead reporting that the anti-choice protesters, “held signs pertaining to adoption, and a few displayed pictures depicting a baby in utero or the reality of abortion.”

Sneddon was more open about her tactics in an email to the Portland Daily Sun:

“We are in the 40th year of Roe vs Wade and our goal is to make abortion unthinkable and to see the law give full protection to the unborn. We will work towards making Maine an abortion free state,” Sneddon wrote. “We believe the most effective way to change public policy is to first change public opinion. In order to accomplish this task we will continue to employ the use of graphic pictures. Images of what abortion does to the unborn speak for themselves. We understand that seeing images of what abortion looks like is extremely distressing but feeling distressed about it is an appropriate response. What we don’t understand is the anger vented toward us who show what abortion looks like but not vented towards those who are performing abortions.”

Portland city council members are discussing whether the city should put a 35-foot buffer zone in place around the clinic to disuade protesters from their aggressive encounters with those they encounter on the sidewalks. Doing so would stop this sort of incident, where the anti-choice protesters follow women up to the door and continue to shout at them through the building. Sneddon said that if a buffer zone were enforced, she would just have to get bigger posters. “Even if a buffer zone is put in place we still will stand outside the zone and display large aborted baby photos with a toll free help phone number for abortion-minded/determined mothers,” she told the Sun.