Kelly Spencer, Staff Writer
This past Good Friday marked the first time that anti-abortion activists were not allowed to protest directly in front of the Plattsburgh Planned Parenthood. Instead, they were asked to move to the other side of the street in order to ease hostility for incoming patients. Prior protestors were allowed to not only stand directly in front of the building, but to occupy parking spaces that would otherwise be used for patients seeking health care. The Common Council in Plattsburgh stated that the primary reason for the change in location was due to safety concerns.
The protest had members of both camps, anti-abortion and pro-choice, well represented. Pro-choice activists were allowed to stand directly in front of the Planned Parenthood and offered escort services to incoming patients. While these two groups are obviously at odds in their opinions on women’s reproductive health issues, the scene was abnormally peaceful, which left all feeling a sense of respect unusual for such an occasion.
Our neighbors to the north in Plattsburgh are among some of the first to enact ordinances for safe zones around abortion clinics. Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine have local ordinances to provide buffer zones, while Colorado and Montana have established them statewide. Massachusetts enacted a law in 2007 which allowed for a 35-foot buffer zone surrounding abortion clinics and their parking lots. The law recently went into appeals and was maintained.
Anti-abortion activists claim that these buffer zones infringe on their right to free speech by restricting where it is appropriate to protest. However, most see the buffer zones as a fair balance between the rights of protestors and women’s reproductive rights.
Roger Evans, who is the senior director of Public Law and Litigation at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spoke out on objections to the Massachusetts buffer zones. Evans explained that the laws under which the buffer zones regulate are the same as those that provide safe spaces around schools and polling buildings. In an interview with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Evans stated, “If [the court] should find some problem with the Massachusetts ordinance it is likely to cast into doubt the permissibility of buffer zones more widely.”
Regardless of opinions for or against buffer zones, the idea is to maintain respect for both parties and to guarantee a safer experience for patients, most of whom are not receiving abortions—a fact Planned Parenthood in particular likes to point out.
Only three percent of all services provided by Planned Parenthood’s over 700 health centers nationwide are abortion services. Nearly three million American women, men and adolescents obtain help from their health centers annually.
Motions are in action nationwide to follow the lead of Plattsburgh and Massachusetts to ensure the safe and fair treatment of those seeking health services.