PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - A legal challenge to a buffer zone around a health clinic that performs abortions in Portland played out in federal court Thursday.
Anti-abortion demonstrators are challenging an ordinance that keeps protesters at least 39-feet away from the entrances of women's health clinics. The ordinance was approved last November in response to protests outside the Planned Parenthood office. Attorneys for the anti-abortion activists say the buffer zone goes too far in limiting free speech and opportunities for anti-abortion protesters to counsel women who are considering having an abortion. They argue that there is an existing disorderly conduct ordinance that doesn't infringe on free speech rights. Attorneys for the city of Portland claim the majority of patients who came to the clinic on Fridays and Saturday mornings, before the buffer zone was established, said they felt harassed by having to walk through a gauntlet of protestors to get to the front door of Planned Parenthood. Attorneys for the protestors say there no reports of criminal activity during any of the protests and the buffer zone is unconstitutional.
'The city needs to show that they have not burdened more speech than necessary to accomplish their goals if there is already laws on the books that would restrict less speech then they have to show why they haven't done that,' said Erin Kunzig from the Thomas More Law Center.
'You can feel intimidated, frightened and harassed enough so that you won't access health care and yet that behavior may not rise to a criminal level if that is the case what is someone to do, and what is the city to do to protect people;s access to health care rights,' said Trish McAllister, Portland City Attorney.
The case is being played out as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next week or so on a similar buffer zone in Massachusetts. Whether Portland's buffer zone will remain could depend on how the high court rules.