Madison to consider buffer zone outside abortion clinics

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A Madison City Council member is seeking to create a buffer zone at the entrances of health care facilities — including an East Side abortion clinic — to protect patients and employees from harassment by protesters.

But opponents of abortion rights say restrictions are unnecessary, violate the First Amendment and could bring a legal challenge.

Ald. Lisa Subeck, 1st District, on Tuesday intends to formally propose a law to create a protective zone within 160 feet of health clinics to allow patients and others to enter and exit without obstruction.

The proposal would ban protesters from being within 8 feet of a person — unless the person consents — to engage in oral protest, education, counseling, passing leaflets or handbills, or displaying signs if on a public way or sidewalk within the 160-foot-protective zone. Such protests can already be prohibited on private property.

The law, to be introduced on the eve of the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision ensuring a woman’s right to an abortion, is inspired by continuing protests at Planned Parenthood’s East Side clinic, the lone Madison abortion provider and one of only four in the state.

It comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider a challenge to a 2007 Massachusetts law that keeps protesters 35 feet from entrances to abortion clinics.

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