Burlington's Controversial Buffer Zone Law

By Megan Carpenter | mcarpenter@nexstar.tv

Published 06/10 2014 10:43PM

Updated 06/12 2014 05:00PM

BURLINGTON, Vt.- In New Hampshire Tuesday. Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill allowing buffer zones up to 25 ft. around reproductive health facilities.  The law comes in response to more than 60 patient complaints since last year.

FOX44/ABC22 checked how Burlington's buffer zone ordinance has impacted Planned Parenthood on Saint Paul Street.  It has been almost two years since its implementation.  In that time, police have ticketed protestors who are now suing the city over the ordinance in federal court.

Since August of 2012, pro-life supporter Agnes Clift has had to express her views across the street from Burlington's Planned Parenthood.  She says she's also had to resort to protesting in front of nearby businesses.

"We typically stand at that sign on the northside, which is problemeatic because it's in front of a business that has nothing to do with abortion or abortion-related activites," says Clift.

Burlington's buffer zone law makes it illegal for her and other protestors to be within 35 ft. of the Planned Parenthood entrance. 

"We believe the buffer zone has been successful and we've heard feedback from pateints and staff," says Jill Krowinski, Spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.  "They feel the zone has given them the space to come into the health center without intimidation or harrassment."

Although city leaders and Burlington police answered questions for people when the ordinance passed, Clift reiterates the rules are too vague.

"What we've been told by Burlington police is if Planned Parenthood complains about anything we do inside the buffer zone, it's violating the rules," says Clift.  "We've gotten ticketed for as little as putting pictures of babies in the windows of our cars and parking in the buffer zone."

Krowinsi says it's a necessary law to make sure the more than 5,000 patients Burlington's Planned Parenthood serves are safe.

"All patients are trying to do is access healthcare," says Krowinski.  "That's why this buffer zone has been so helpful in ensuring that they have a safe place to come into when they want to access services."

Protestors say this rule is unconstitutional.  Six of them took this complaint to federal court.  The U.S. District Court in Burlington has ruled the ordinance constitutional, though has yet to make a ruling on whether the ordinance is being properly enforced by the city.  To see full case documents, click here.  

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