CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a law Tuesday that allows New Hampshire’s reproductive health facilities where abortions are offered to set buffer zones of up to 25 feet around their entrances.
The law was filed in response to protests and picket activity at Planned Parenthood’s health center in Manchester. It takes effect in 30 days. Bill supporters said more than 60 patient complaints have been logged since the beginning of 2013.
Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the buffer zone will ensure the privacy and dignity of patients and improve public safety.
Laura Thibault, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire, said no one “should face violence, public shaming or intimidation while accessing safe, legal health services.”
Opponents argued the measure infringes on the free speech rights of abortion opponents, but Hassan disagreed.
“Women should be able to access critical health services without fearing for their safety and this bipartisan, commonsense measure will help ensure the safety of patients and the public, while also protecting the rights of free speech and privacy,” said Hassan.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the constitutionality of a 35-foot protest free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics.
Frizzell said New Hampshire’s law addresses some of the questions raised with Massachusetts’ law by requiring all demonstrators - not just those opposed to abortion - to remain behind the buffer zone. She said it also allows local officials and the center to tailor each zone to fit the neighborhood where the center is located.
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