Portland, Maine City Council to weigh in on abortion clinic buffer zone

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November 18, 2013, 9:20 pm
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(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - The City Council in Portland, Maine is expected to vote Wednesday night on whether or not to create a "buffer zone" around a clinic where abortions are performed.

The demonstrators say they have the constitutional right to speak out against abortion on any city sidewalk, but patients at Planned Parenthood say it's not free speech -- it's harassment.

The protesters have been a fixture on the 400 block of Congress Street every Friday morning since the summer of 2012.

Carrying signs depicting developing and sometimes mutilated fetuses, they say their goal is to discourage women from seeking an abortion at the clinic upstairs.

"The women are murderers," said Leslie Sneddon, holding a sign declaring 'Babies are Murdered Here.' "If she's not confronted before she dies and doesn't have the blood of Jesus Christ covering her, she will go to Hell."

College senior Deena Metzler says she had to walk past the demonstrators en route to her abortion appointment last year.

"It just felt like a real invasion of my privacy," recalled Metzler.

She says what should have been a deeply personal decision made with help from her partner, her parents and her health care provider was suddenly up for public discourse on the sidewalk.

"I think it makes someone feel shame, like someone is judging them, when they don't know anything about their life or their experiences," said Metzler.

The staff at Planned Parenthood said the sidewalk sermons amount to harassment, not just for their patients, but for everyone who’s entering the multi-use office building, and they asked for protection in the form of a buffer zone on the corner of Congress and Elm streets.

"The currently proposed 39-foot patient safety zone strikes an adequate balance that ensures that patients can access healthcare while free of harassment, while still protecting freedom of speech right," said Eric Covey, organizer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
If it passes, anyone violating the ordinance would be given a verbal warning for a first offense. The second time, they’d get a citation and face a minimum $100 fine.

The anti-abortion activists say they will abide by whatever decision the Portland councilors make.

"If it passes, then we'll stand where we're permitted to stand and do the Lord's business where we're allowed to," said demonstrator Marguerite Fitzgerald.

They say they’ll probably move across the street and demonstrate with larger signs and louder voices. What they won't do, they say, is go away.

Similar laws have survived constitutional challenges in other states, but that could change. The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Massachusetts' buffer zone law in the current session. Attorney General Martha Coakley will defend the law.

Tags: maine, portland, Amy Sinclair, Planned Parenthood, Portland ME City Council, Portland ME Planned Parenthood, abortion protesters, Portland ME Planned Parenthood buffer zone
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