Anti-abortion activists would have to stay at least 25 feet away from reproductive-health clinics in San Francisco under a law introduced Tuesday by Supervisor David Campos, sparking a debate about free expression.
The proposal is in response to routine demonstrations outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Mission district, which Campos represents.
“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.”
In 1993, The City adopted a law that created an 8-foot “bubble zone” around anyone who is within 100 feet of such facilities. Campos’ law would prohibit anyone from standing within 25 feet of the entrances, exits and driveways of these facilities.
Anti-abortion demonstrator Glen Jones stood near the clinic’s entrance Tuesday afternoon by a table with a sign that said, “Women do regret abortion.”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Jones said of the proposal. “We are not stopping anyone. We are letting folks know that women have alternatives.”
He added that being forced to stand farther away from the clinic would detract from the message. “We are not the enemy; I feel like we are trying to make a difference,” Jones said.
The proposal is similar to laws enacted elsewhere. A Massachusetts law prohibiting protests within 35 feet of abortion clinics has withstood several legal challenges, most recently a federal appeal.
“Few subjects have proven more controversial in modern times than the issue of abortion,” said the Jan. 9 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. “The nation is sharply divided about the morality of the practice and its place in a caring society.”
The court found that the state has the right to “take reasonable steps to ensure the safe passage of persons wishing to enter healthcare facilities.” The Massachusetts law, the court said, “is a content-neutral narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the rights of prospective patients and clinic employees without offending the First Amendment rights of others.”
Campos spoke about the First Amendment issues Tuesday when he introduced the legislation.
“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.