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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New Hampshire’s abortion clinic buffer zone law faces court challenge

CONCORD – A legal group promoting Christian beliefs has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire over a new law that would establish protest-free buffer zones around facilities that offer abortions.

Alliance Defending Freedom is asking a federal judge to temporarily block New Hampshire’s new law from taking effect Thursday. The new law would ban demonstrators from coming within 25 feet of facilities where abortions are performed. ...

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CONCORD – A legal group promoting Christian beliefs has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire over a new law that would establish protest-free buffer zones around facilities that offer abortions.

Alliance Defending Freedom is asking a federal judge to temporarily block New Hampshire’s new law from taking effect Thursday. The new law would ban demonstrators from coming within 25 feet of facilities where abortions are performed.

The court challenge comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down a similar buffer zone law in Massachusetts.

“New Hampshire has created an expansive anti-speech zone that cannot survive constitutional scrutiny,” said Manchester attorney Michael Tierney, who is working with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge the New Hampshire law. “There is no constitutional ground for creating speech-restricted zones on public ways and sidewalks.”

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan signed New Hampshire’s buffer zone regulation into law June 10.

Hassan said last month that it was unclear what impact the Supreme Court’s ruling would have in the Granite State. While the law was patterned on regulations in Massachusetts, proponents of the measure said the New Hampshire version contains substantial differences.

One major difference is the size of the buffer zone. The law in Massachusetts barred demonstrators from operating within 35 feet of abortion clinics, while the New Hampshire measure creates 25-foot buffer zones.

The New Hampshire law also establishes different penalties. Any protester coming within the buffer zone would first be issued a written warning before being cited for a violation that would carry a minimum fine of $100.

Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said Tuesday that New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster is evaluating the new lawsuit. He said to date, no abortion center in New Hampshire has posted buffer zones. The new law requires facilities to interact with local officials before establishing the zones.

“Bipartisan majorities of the New Hampshire House and Senate believed we needed to take action to ensure that women could access health care free from harassment, obstruction or threats to safety, and Governor Hassan will continue to work toward meeting that goal,” Hinkle said.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed the 2008 court case in Massachusetts that eventually spurred last month’s Supreme Court ruling. In New Hampshire, ADF is representing a group of residents who regularly engage in pro-life advocacy outside of facilities that provide abortions in Manchester, Concord, Keene, Greenland and Derry. The plaintiffs participate in “peaceful prayer, leafleting, sidewalk counseling” and other activities, according to their lawsuit.

ADF contends that its clients’ free-speech rights would be violated if New Hampshire’s new law buffer zone law takes effect. The group filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire on Monday. ADF is asking a judge to halt the new law while the case is pending.

“Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks,” ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman said in a prepared statement. “That includes peaceful pro-life advocates who just want to offer information and help to women who would like it. The Supreme Court recently affirmed this vital freedom, which has been an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding. New Hampshire’s law suffers from the same unconstitutional problems as the one the Supreme Court struck down.”

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).