New Hampshire Republicans Support Commonsense Measure, SCOTUS to Decide on Similar Measure this Month

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of a 35-foot protest free zone outside Massachusetts family planning clinics later this month in the case of McCullen v. Coakley. The decision on whether state or local governments can enforce buffer zones to prevent harassment and violence could affect the state’s ability to reasonably balance free speech and public safety.
 
Long time anti-choice protester Eleanor McCullen, who is bringing the lawsuit, argues the buffer zone violates her First Amendment rights by restricting speech based on its content. Supporters of the law, however, liken the buffer zone to similar buffer zones around funerals, polling places, political conventions, and even the Supreme Court. Both sides have questioned how difficult it is to differentiate between people who want to peaceably protest and those who intend to be violent. Even so, law enforcement authorities describe the situation outside many family planning clinics as chaotic, arguing restrictions are warranted to prevent violence and disruptions such as the killing of two clinic employees in Massachusetts in 1994 that first prompted the law.

In 2000, the court upheld Colorado’s 8-foot floating buffer zone around individuals to protect clinic patients and staff. During oral arguments for McCullen v. Coakley, Justice Elena Kagan specifically questioned the size of Massachusetts’ larger buffer zone, which was increased to 35 feet after anti-choice protesters resorted to filming and touching patients as they entered clinics and blocking access to parking garages. The court may decide to reverse the Colorado decision entirely or rule specifically on the permissibility of the size of Massachusetts’ buffer zone.

Nevertheless, New Hampshire has chosen not to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the subject. Mainstream Republicans in New Hampshire passed a pro-choice bill allowing reproductive health clinics to set buffer zones of up to 25 feet around their entrances to protect patients from anti-choice protesters. Gov. Mary Hassan will sign that bill into law Tuesday. Four Republican state Senators, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, and 13 Republicans in the state House voted in favor of this commonsense measure that protects patients seeking legal medical services from harassment, intimidation, and possible escalation to violence. New Hampshire’s Real Republican lawmakers continue to show they support women and the Republican values of individual liberty and personal responsibility.

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