By Elizabeth Dinan
Article taken from Seacoast Online [email protected]
July 15, 2014 2:00 AM
GREENLAND — Portsmouth attorney Peter Loughlin has been retained to represent the town in a federal case involving protest-free buffer zones at abortion clinics.
A state law creating the buffer zones became effective Thursday, but the Attorney General’s office announced it won’t enforce the law until a federal judge issues a ruling on a related lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought by anti-abortion activists, including a nun who prays outside a Greenland women’s health care center, who cite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found buffer zones in Massachusetts infringed upon First Amendment rights of anti-abortion activists.
A hearing is scheduled for July 25 in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire for the case that involves the Joan G. Loverling Center in Greenland, which provides abortions.
Loughlin said Monday that he has consulted with Greenland officials who say local police, protesters and employees of the Loverling Center all report they’ve “been extremely respectful of each other” and have had “no problems.” He said the town has decided it, too, will not enforce a buffer zone before a federal judge issues a ruling on the pending lawsuit.
Loughlin said town officials are also consulting with the New Hampshire Local Government Center to determine if the municipal insurer will cover Greenland’s legal costs associated with being affiliated with the federal case.
Attorney General Joseph Foster said last week that New Hampshire law “is more flexible” than the one found unconstitutional in Massachusetts, because it allows for health care facilities to decide “on a location-by-location basis” whether to create a buffer zone.
“In doing so, the New Hampshire statute provides reproductive health care facilities the opportunity to evaluate the situation at its facility and then, if necessary, attempt other means, such as ordinances and injunctions, before creating a buffer,” he wrote to the federal court.
The Massachusetts law created fixed 35-foot buffer zones at all abortion clinics, Foster wrote to the court.
The activists suing New Hampshire are Sister Mary Rose Reddy, Sue Clifton, Jennifer Robidoux, Joan Espinola, Terry Barnun, Jackie Pelletier and Betty Buzzell.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England issued a statement last week saying it “has no present intentions of taking steps to post such a zone at our New Hampshire health centers nor have we consulted with any municipal officials about doing so.”
“We continue to evaluate the Supreme Court ruling, as well as patient protection laws around the country, to ensure that women can continue to make their own health care decisions without judgment from strangers and abusive and physically threatening protesters and without fear of harassment or intimidation,” the statement says. “No matter what agenda these protesters and outside legal groups might pursue, Planned Parenthood’s No. 1 priority remains the safety and privacy of our patients and staff.”