New Laws for Planned Parenthood Protests

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WALNUT CREEK — As Friday afternoon stretched past the closing time of the Planned Parenthood Clinic, hardly anyone could be seen approaching or leaving the premises.

But that didn’t deter the three abortion protesters from hanging around looking for potential converts to their cause.

That mission could become more difficult if Walnut Creek City Council approves a draft ordinance on Tuesday that would require protesters to stay at least eight feet from anyone entering or exiting the clinic at 1357 Oakland Blvd. without that person’s consent.

Walnut Creek, a hotbed of anti-abortion protests in the Bay Area in recent years, would join several other cities that have established similar buffer zones around Planned Parenthood clinics to keep patients from being approached as they go. present for reproductive health care services.

Protests outside clinics have grown across the country as abortion opponents feel emboldened by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court giving them the best chance in decades to have it struck down or dramatically weakened the historic Roe vs. Wade decision. Meanwhile, a growing number of states have begun trying to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that women have a constitutional right to abortion, with Texas and Mississippi adopting last year. restrictive abortion laws that are currently being challenged in court.

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and Napa have created buffer zones to deal with protests at Planned Parenthood clinics. When writing its own order, Walnut Creek looked to a 2000 Supreme Court decision that upheld a similar decision in Colorado.

If the proposed ordinance is approved, Walnut Creek’s eight-foot buffer zones would apply to any public street or sidewalk within 100 feet of the clinic. Protesters would be prohibited from making “excessive noise, including shouting, or (using) a loudspeaker, megaphone or any electronic audio instrument or device that produces or reproduces amplified sound”.

Violations could result in misdemeanor citations, though the city’s police department says it will issue them as a last resort after trying to educate protesters about where the lines are drawn.

“I don’t know how easy it will be to apply this version of the pads,” Police Lt. Ryan Hibbs said in an interview. “We’re going to investigate very thoroughly and gather all the evidence we can, but what we don’t know is how many different types of service calls we’re necessarily going to get.”

The service is no stranger to the clinic’s 911 calls. The heated protests of the past two years have led to physical altercations on several occasions. “With recent laws enacted in Texas and Mississippi, protesters in Walnut Creek appear to have become more emboldened and aggressive,” Councilman Kevin Wilk said at a Jan. 18 meeting when the council signaled plans to create a buffer zone.

The one-story clinic is surrounded by a narrow sidewalk, and protests often involve dozens of attendees thronging it, holding signs and chanting religious prayers.

After a violent clash in 2020, private security guards hired by abortion protesters were arrested for pepper spraying counter-protesters. Hibbs said protesters have since stopped bringing extra muscle to the clinic.

As for the application of the possible buffer zone, officers should use their judgment when reviewing allegations of rule violations, Hibbs said. This would involve interviewing witnesses and checking video footage, then backtracking to determine whether protesters are currently following the rules.

City Attorney Steve Mattas said that in establishing the 100-foot perimeter boundary, his office took into account that the clinic’s entrance is set back nearly 30 feet from the narrow sidewalk that runs through it. ‘surrounded.

Council members had come up with many possible configurations for the buffer, ultimately landing on an eight-foot buffer similar to that established by San Jose in the 1990s.

“I felt council members were very thoughtful in their comments” about the buffer zones, Mattas said. “They reflected their understanding and consideration of both the constitutional rights of the protesters and those of those who provide and receive services at Planned Parenthood.”

The city chapter of 40 Days for Life, a national group that organizes anti-abortion protests, insists that all they do is openly pray for abortion victims and engage the passers-by in a civil manner.

The group previously sent this news agency a “declaration of peace” for protesters affiliated with the group to sign, pledging to “seek only peaceful, prayerful and legal solutions to abortion violence.”

In recent meetings, members of the group told the council that creating buffer zones would violate their First Amendment rights. And in written and oral comments, they threatened legal action. So far, however, Mattas said the city has not been contacted by any attorneys.

On Friday, the three protesters outside the clinic waved their anti-abortion posters as a car honked past. “Science says… it’s human life!” said one of the signs, which depicted the image of a human fetus. Protesters declined to be asked about possible buffer zones or their broader cause.

But as a woman suddenly emerged from the nearby clinic in a wheelchair, protesters made their way to the parking lot, waiting to see if she approached them.

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