SAN FRANCISCO
03/18/2013 08:52 pm ET

San Francisco Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone: Proposed Law Aimed At Stopping Harassment

SAN FRANCISCO -- A new piece of legislation proposed by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos would create a 25-foot "buffer zone" around the city's reproductive health care clinics, thus prohibiting protesters from entering the vicinity.

Campos' bill came as a result of complaints about harassment from patients and staff members at the Planned Parenthood location on Valencia Street in the city's Mission District.

"[For the last few years,] we have had a number of protestors who have not only been protesting, which is their right, but intimidating, harassing and keeping women from going into the clinic," Campos said to The Huffington Post. "They were parking a big truck in front of the entrance...making it difficult to go in or out."

Last year, Planned Parenthood staff worked to install a white-curb loading zone in front of the facility so patients could get in and out with minimal harassment. Even so, protesters were quickly able to skirt the protections by exploiting loopholes in the law or modifying their behavior as soon as authorities showed up.

"There's a woman who sits in a wheelchair blocking the loading zone all the time," Planned Parenthood spokesperson Adrienne Verrilli told HuffPost. "There are ordinances out there that protect our clients, but we're coming up empty in how to enforce them. Our clients are coming through the door in tears."

Verrilli hopes Campos' proposal will create a loophole-free space in the front of the building where clients can safely come in and out. Verrilli noted that abortions only count for two percent of the patient visits at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Mission.

The measure applies to all free-standing health clinics in the city, even those not specifically offering abortion services--although hospitals are excluded. The penalty for encroaching into the buffer zone could stretch up to a $500 fine or three months in jail.

Some of the anti-abortion protesters who frequent the space in front of the Planned Parenthood facility slammed both the law and its sentiment in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think it's stupid…there's no harassment whatsoever," said Ron Konopaski. "We're here to help the woman in any way we can and save the baby from being killed."

Campos' bill is modeled on buffer zone legislation that's been enacted in places like Pittsburgh, Oakland and the state of Colorado. A similar law in Massachusetts, which created a 35-foot buffer zone around the state's clinics, has been upheld by a federal appeals court four times in the past dozen years.

Campos said he plans on introducing the legislation during Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

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