May 14, 2015 5:54 PM
Repealing buffer zones around abortion clinics bill dead after Senate deadlocks
CONCORD - The state’s controversial buffer zone of up to 25 feet around abortion clinics will remain on the books at least through the next election.
A House-endorsed move to repeal the buffer zone failed on a 12-12 vote in the State Senate.
The opposition of Republican Senators Jerry Little of Weare and Nancy Stiles of Hampton ensured the measure would not go any further.
As expected, Planned Parenthood of Northern England hailed the decision while anti-abortion activists condemned the Senate’s failure to pass it.
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, authored the buffer zone law which has been on hold since opponents filed a lawsuit against it in federal court.
Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law weeks before the US Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law of 35 feet.
Sen. Stiles stressed the New Hampshire law was very different; clinics did not have to impose buffer zones, violators were only warned on the first offense and the protection zone can be less than 25 feet.
"This is not the same law and it is more accommodating and respectful of free speech rights,’’ Stiles said.
But Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said there’s no acceptable reason to restrict the public from peaceful protest outside a clinic.
"We are talking about people praying. I don’t consider that intimidating at all,’’ Avard said.
Rep. Kathleen Souza, a Manchester Republican and co-sponsor of the repeal bill, said it was needed to ward off a costly lawsuit and because harassment is not occurring outside such facilities. Instead, she said, people are acting peacefully. Creating a buffer zone violates the First Amendment rights of people who want to stand outside the clinics, she said.
“It’s an affront to our state, our state’s motto and the Constitution to have this on the books,” she said.
The federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act prohibits people from blocking women’s access to reproductive health care services.