Clinic Safety Zone Act

Summary: The Clinic Safety Zone Act would protect patients and staff who are trying to enter or exit a reproductive health care facility by prohibiting protestors from obstructing the way and stopping them from approaching closer than eight feet to individuals trying to access the clinic.

Background Summary

Women who go to health clinics that provide the full range of reproductive care services, including abortion, are continually subjected to harassment. More than 700 facilities across the country have been swarmed or blockaded by protesters attempting to dissuade or prevent patients from receiving crucial reproductive health care.

Clinic patients are stalked, threatened, and harassed. In addition to blocking public walkways and calling patients murderers, anti-choice protesters often make patients fear for their personal safety. Of course, many of these patients are not even there for abortion since most clinics also provide cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control and all manner of reproductive health care services.

Existing laws are insufficient to protect the clients of reproductive health care facilities. Although the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act addresses some of the anti-abortion tactics, it is not enough.

Colorado and Montana, and several cities, have safety zone laws that work. A safety zone is a floating area around patients and staff. Protesters are prohibited from approaching without permission within a certain distance, usually eight feet. That way, protesters’ right to free speech is protected—they can say whatever they want—but patients have some sense of safety and security from the harassment and violence.

Every person has the right to be free from harassment and violence while accessing reproductive health care. The Clinic Safety Zone Act is intended to give women who visit a reproductive health clinic a level of protection from this harassment.


Model Legislation

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act shall be called the “Clinic Safety Zone Act.”

SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

(A) FINDINGS—The legislature finds that:

1)      All residents must be able to access health care facilities for the purpose of obtaining medical counseling and treatment.

2)      The exercise of a person’s right to protest or counsel against certain medical procedures must be balanced against another person’s right to obtain medical counseling and treatment in an unobstructed manner.

3)      Preventing the willful obstruction of a person’s access to medical counseling and treatment at a health care facility is a matter of public concern.

4)      It is necessary and appropriate to prohibit individuals from knowingly obstructing another person’s entry to or exit from a health care facility.

[Bill drafting note: Because of the sensitivity of First Amendment concerns and the fact that abortion opponents often file suit over the First Amendment, the Findings should be carefully crafted to describe the problem in your own jurisdiction.]

(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to protect the health, safety and welfare of health facility patients and staff.

SECTION 3. CLINIC SAFETY ZONES

After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:

(A) DEFINITIONS—In this section:

“Reproductive health care facility” means any office or clinic that provides abortion, contraception, infertility treatment, prenatal care, miscarriage management, treatment for STIs, or counseling for any of the preceding services.

(B) PROTECTION OF REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE PATIENTS AND STAFF

1)      No person shall intentionally touch or cause physical contact with an individual who is attempting to enter or exit from a reproductive health care facility, without that individual’s consent.

2)      No person shall knowingly obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block an individual’s entry to or exit from a reproductive health care facility. Obstruction includes causing such individual to take evasive action to avoid physical contact or placing signs on a walkway in a way that restricts the flow of pedestrian traffic.

3)      When an individual is entering or exiting a reproductive health care facility, no person shall knowingly approach within eight feet of such individual, unless the individual consents, for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in any public way or sidewalk area within a radius of one hundred feet from any entrance door to the reproductive health care facility.

(C) ENFORCEMENT

1)      Violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of one hundred dollars ($100) for a first offense and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent offense.

2)      An aggrieved person may enforce the provisions of this section by means of a civil action. An aggrieved person includes any reproductive health care facility where the violation occurred. Violators shall be liable for actual damages, but in no case less than $1,000 plus attorneys’ fees and the costs of the action.

SECTION 4. REPEAL

The following are repealed: [list any inconsistent existing law.]

SECTION 5. SEVERABILITY

The provisions of this Act shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision is declared to be invalid or is preempted by federal law or regulation, the validity of the remainder of this Act shall not be affected.

SECTION 6. EFFECTIVE DATE 

This Act shall take effect on XXXX 1, 2016

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