City Council Passes 39-foot Patient Safety Zone at Planned Parenthood

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Councilor Duson Proposed the Emergency Preamble to the Ordinance. (She is NOT Councilor Mavodones!)

Councilor Duson Proposed the Emergency Preamble to the Ordinance. (She is NOT Councilor Mavodones!)

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,609)

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance creating a thirty-nine foot Patient Safety Zone next to a Planned Parenthood health center, 443 Congress Street, late this evening.  The buffer zone goes into effect immediately. City Councilor Jill Duson proposed the emergency preamble to the ordinance which put the buffer zone into effect immediately.  Councilor Ed Suslovic, Chair of the Public Safety Committee,  was the lone councilor voting in opposition to that emergency preamble.

Prior to tonight’s meeting at city hall Donna Hebert, who started the organization behind the weekly protests at Planned Parenthood in downtown Portland said she had four abortions.  “That was before we knew the Lord Jesus Christ as we do now,” she said. Leslie Sneddon, one of the protestors said:  “We don’t cared whether there is a buffer zone or not cause God is higher than a buffer zone.  We don’t know if there will be a lawsuit.  We’ll wait for our lawyer to let us know,” she said. Sneddon has repeatedly said that should the ordinance be passed, there will be a lawsuit filed against the City.  It appeared they were either backing down or stalling for time.

Following an overview by Councilor Suslovic, Trish McAllister, the city’s prosecutor said this ordinance was modeled by one in Burlington, Vermont which has already passed judicial review. The Massachusetts ordinance is similar to the Portland one and is being challenged in the United States Supreme Court.  It is scheduled to be heard on January 15th and a decision is expected to be reached by the end of June 2014. There was speculation that perhaps the Portland opponents of the buffer zone were awaiting the outcome of this decision before deciding whether or not to file against Portland.

The Patient Safety Zone Ordinance was drafted with the intent to protect the right to seek and obtain reproductive health care services while preserving individual freedom of speech. Although nothing illegal took place, 199 patients complained of feeling intimidated and harassed as they passed through the “gauntlet” of protestors at Planned Parenthood every Friday and Saturday morning for the past year or so.  Twenty-five people testified in favor of the ordinance and eight testified in opposition to it. Those testifying in opposition frequently cited Biblical passages to justify their positions.

Following the city council meeting,  Eric Covey, Maine Grassroots organizer for the non-profit said:  “We are incredibly excited that the city has passed the Patient Safety Zone Ordinance to protect patients’ ability access health care free of harassment and intimidation.  The support of the Portland City Council to enact a Patient Safety Zone immediately will ensure that patients’ ability to access health care will be protected in Portland.   I think the City stands on immensely firm legal ground,” Covey said.  “The case law is good here.”