U.S. Supreme Court buffer zone ruling will likely affect Portland

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling against protest-free zones outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts will likely have a direct effect on a similar buffer zone ordinance in Portland.

While the case the Supreme Court ruled on is out of Massachusetts, the city of Portland has a very similar ordinance. And it, too, is being challenged in court.

On the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said authorities have less intrusive ways to deal with problems outside the clinics.

The 39-foot buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood on Congress Street was approved by the city council last November. Protesters sued -- and the judge in Portland's case said she wanted to wait for the high court before she ruled here.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said the organization is disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling. Planned Parenthood believes the buffer zone fairly balances first amendment rights.

Doctors and patients at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England were concerned about the group of protesters that had been outside the Portland Office for about a year -- saying they yelled at patients, intimidated and harassed them while holding graphic posters of abortions.

"We have found that the buffer zone's been a very effective way to balance the needs of protesters who want to exercise their first amendment rights with healthcare patients who want to be able to access healthcare," Nicole Clegg said. "Women should be able to access healthcare free from intimidation and harassment. The buffer zone allowed them to do that."

Erin Kuenzig, the attorney of Leslie Sneddon -- one of the protesters suing the city of Portland -- said

"We're very happy to see the Supreme Court made a decision respecting the First Amendment rights for citizens who wish to engage in sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics. We anticipate a ruling fairly quickly now, we filed a notice today in the case informing the court of the decision and highlighting some aspects of the case that would impact the outcome of your case. We hope that she will rule in favor of the plaintiff based on the Supreme Court's decision."

Kuenzig said her client wants to engage in peaceful conversation, and that authorities should use less intrusive ways to address that.

Spokesperson for the City of Portland Jessica Grondin said, "We need to conduct a review of the Supreme Court's ruling to examine how it will apply to our buffer zone ordinance here in Portland. In regards to our pending legal case, we will wait to hear from the Court to see what the next steps are."


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