Earlier this month state Senator Larry Farnese re-introduced Senate Bill 1105, a bill to reduce harassment and confrontations between women accessing abortion care and those determined to bar them by mandating a content-neutral buffer zone around the entrances to health clinics. SB 1105 is similar to the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
Clinic violence and harassment is on the rise. In Colorado Springs and elsewhere, anti-abortion vigilantes have cost people their lives. Yet anti-abortion groups continue to challenge buffer zones in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley to strike down a 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts. Currently, anti-abortion groups are focused on the 15-foot buffer zone in Pittsburgh, appealing a decision made earlier this year that the zone is constitutional and that the McCullen decision did not mean that no zones should exist.
Senator Farnese’s bill seeks to strike a balance between the freedom of speech rights of protesters and the rights of women to access essential healthcare, and the rights of healthcare providers to go to their jobs without bodily threat.
“My new proposal makes it clear that people who try to intimidate or hurt women entering a reproductive health care clinic will be punished, ordered to pay a hefty fine, and spend a lot of time in jail,” Sen. Farnese said (in a statement), “If anyone hurts a patient while attempting to ‘counsel’ them, they would be charged with a third-degree felony. If a protester causes a patient’s death, that person could go to jail for the rest of their life.”
Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at Women’s Law Project said, “Counting the recent killings in Colorado Springs, there have been 11 murders and 26 attempted murders in attacks targeting reproductive health care providers in the United States and Canada. We’re grateful to Senator Farnese for taking the lead on strengthening Pennsylvania’s laws so women’s health care providers and their patients are better protected.”