San Francisco Lawmakers Fight Back After Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone Ruling

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San Francisco Lawmakers Fight Back After Supreme Court’s Buffer Zone Ruling

Nina Liss-Schultz

Passed unanimously by the city Board of Supervisors, the ordinance is meant to mitigate the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June buffer zone ruling.

San Francisco lawmakers this week passed an ordinance creating protections for people entering and leaving the city’s abortion clinics. The ordinance, passed unanimously by the city Board of Supervisors, is meant to mitigate the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June buffer zone ruling.

The California city had passed a law in 2013, which like the Massachusetts law was modeled after, established a 25-foot “buffer zone” around reproductive health-care clinics, which protesters can’t enter. But in June, conservative justices on the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ law, ruling that it infringes on protesters’ right to free speech. San Francisco stopped enforcing its own law as a result.

Since June, city policymakers have worked to create new clinic protections that are in line with the Court’s controversial ruling.

“When reproductive rights came under attack by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority,” said David Campos, the ordinance’s sponsor, “our office stepped up to make sure patients here in San Francisco have access to health care without extreme harassment.”

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Instead of creating a protest-free zone outside of clinics, the ordinance passed this week regulates the kind of protesting allowed within the zone.

Now, anti-choice picketers determined to yell or use megaphones will have to stand 50-feet away from clinic entrances, while those engaging in “quiet, consensual conversations” can stand closer.

Protesters are also barred from impeding access to entrances, and the law gives power to law enforcement to disperse protesters violating the provisions.

“It’s not a buffer zone in the way it was before,” Campos said in a statement. “It actually focuses on the conduct of the individual and if that individual is harassing someone.”

The new ordinance mirrors a law passed by the Massachusetts legislature in July in response to the Roberts Court’s buffer zone decision. At the time of its passage, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said that the law would protect women from facing “intimidation or threats when trying to access reproductive health care services.”

Campos echoed that sentiment in a statement on his Facebook page, saying that he’s “proud that our law balances First Amendment rights with the rights of patients to access medical care without having their privacy violated, their dignity insulted, and their health compromised.”