SF supervisors should pass mandatory buffer zone law for clinics

San Francisco has always been the stomping grounds of activists protesting contentious issues. Abortion is no different. No matter which side of the issue you come down on, passions run high, with opponents and supporters often ending up in heated exchanges.

But while exchanges between protesters have come to be expected, a recent rise in complaints of harassment from clients visiting Planned Parenthood locations has spawned legislation in San Francisco that would create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics. The goal being to prevent anti-abortion protesters from harassing women as they enter and exit the clinic.

Free speech has always been a balancing act, weighing the right of free expression against the right of citizens to be free from harassment, and this legislation does a superb job of walking that fine line.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen heroes Act, which prohibits protests within 300 feet of the entrance of any ceremony under control of the National Cemetery Administration, in response to the Westboro Baptist Church protesting military funerals.

Montana, Massachusetts and Colorado have all made the decision to compromise protester’s free speech and assembly to protect patients with statewide abortion clinic buffer zones. Several individual counties and city municipalities have done the same after complaints of harassment.

Current San Francisco law, which provides for an 8-foot “bubble” around those entering and exiting the clinic, does not go far enough.

Protesters have been able to circumnavigate city law. They plant themselves in one spot, forcing patients to pass within close proximity of them to get inside. In some cases even using protesters in wheelchairs, who are granted access to the sidewalk because of disabilities, to get closer to patients.

The supervisors should be commended for attempting to close this loophole and should move to enact this law quickly, mirroring legislation in many other states and cities.

The nature of a buffer-zone law itself is hard to enforce, requiring special security and supervision. Supervisors must assure that the new measure, if passed, will be followed by protesters and upheld by authorities.

Regardless of how you feel about the issue itself, abortion is legal and women have the right to pursue the procedure with the guarantee of patient privacy and without having to endure harassment. In any legal medical procedure, the rights of patients take precedence in being protected.

This law provides for that, while still maintaining the protesters right to voice their objections in a safe manner.