San Francisco moves to silence sidwalk counselors

Pro-life youth stand outside abortion center.

“Choice” trumping our rights.

We are not militants. (Photo credit: Bethany Bolen)

We are not militants. (Photo credit: Bethany Bolen)

To hear pro-aborts talk, you’d think the only thing keeping the United States from being a “reproductive freedom” paradise is the fact that Americans who disagree have the audacity to insist on keeping their own rights, from the organizations their tax dollars fund to the services their businesses provide.

Today’s rights that must yield to “choice” are freedom of speech and assembly. On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos introduced a measure to prohibit pro-life activists from standing within 25 feet of the entrances, exits, or driveways of so-called reproductive health clinics in the area (triple the city’s current 8-foot buffer zone):

“Unfortunately, the laws that we’ve had in place have not been sufficient to protect the women,” Campos said. “Demonstrators continue to not only harass and intimidate, but they try to find loopholes in the existing laws.” […]

“We need to strike a balance between the right of free speech and the right of women, especially to access health care,” Campos said.

There are a handful of such clinics in San Francisco, but the Planned Parenthood site attracts the most attention given the organization’s prominent stature.

The buffer zones would be marked by signage and paint, with details to be worked out by the Public Works Department. Repeat offenders would face jail time of six months and a $1,000 fine.

A board committee is expected to hold a hearing on the legislation as early as next month. It would take at least six votes to pass at the full board. Eight supervisors have already signaled their support for the proposal.

While pro-lifers’ prayers and signs would retain their potency, keeping sidewalk counselors that far away from the points where they’re most likely to be able to interact with who they’re trying to reach would severely impact their effectiveness, and condemn them to Planned Parenthood’s one-sided, opportunistic brand of “care.”

As for balance? The rights don’t need to be “balanced”; speech can’t keep a single person from entering a building he or she wants to enter, no matter how “harassing” Robin Marty thinks fetal development images and “Women do regret abortion” signs might be. The Huffington Post comes closer to substantiating the charge, but not by much:

“They were parking a big truck in front of the entrance [Campos alleged] 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.”

We can’t figure out how to keep people out of our own loading zones, so we’re going to cordon off the whole surrounding area to dissent? Overkill? And as for people allegedly changing their behavior before the cops can see it, I’d like to inform Planned Parenthood of wonderful devices called “security cameras.”

Sidewalk-silencing supporters cite the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ January 1 decision to uphold the constitutionality of a similar Massachusetts law on the basis that states can “take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter healthcare facilities.” But that judgment’s far from a consensus view. In 2009, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Pittsburgh’s more modest 15-foot buffer zone, finding it “unprecedented” and “unduly—and unconstitutionally—onerous”:

“We conclude that the Ordinance burdens substantially more speech than necessary and is thus insufficiently tailored,” the opinion states. “Because we find that the Ordinance’s combination of zones is not narrowly tailored, we hold on the merits that the Ordinance is facially invalid.”

Indeed, there are all sorts of protests over all sorts of issues where it doesn’t occur to anyone to stifle speech. Objecting to a 35-foot buffer for Planned Parenthood in Burlington, Vermont, the City Council’s lone dissenter, Paul Decelles, observed (note: paraphrasing by VTDigger.com, not Decelles’s exact words):

If a buffer zone is appropriate in this case, he said, why not also have a buffer zone for panhandling or protests in front of banks? For several months a group of Occupy activists have been gathering in front of the Citizens Bank to demand that it close and leave town.

Those who would like to express their objections to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors can contact them here, though considering they represent a liberal enclave, don’t expect it to change their decision. To a good liberal, “choice” trumps even the rights that our Constitution actually mentions.

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