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Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Hampshire ignoring abortion clinic buffer zone for now

CONCORD (AP) - The state of New Hampshire and several counties have agreed not to enforce a law that creates a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics until a federal judge decides whether it's legal.

In an order Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante announced the agreement and also signaled that the group challenging the law has a good chance of prevailing. Laplante set a July 25 hearing date in the case. ...

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CONCORD (AP) - The state of New Hampshire and several counties have agreed not to enforce a law that creates a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics until a federal judge decides whether it's legal.

In an order Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante announced the agreement and also signaled that the group challenging the law has a good chance of prevailing. Laplante set a July 25 hearing date in the case.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that successfully sued to overturn a similar law in Massachusetts, has sued on behalf of several abortion opponents who say New Hampshire's buffer zone violates the free speech rights of abortion protesters.

Advocates of the buffer zone say it's necessary to protect women and clinic workers from harassment, threats and even violence.

The law was to take effect Thursday and the alliance sought a temporary order blocking its enforcement until the judge could hold a hearing on its merits. But after a conference call with lawyers Wednesday, Laplante said the state attorney general's office and county attorneys agreed they wouldn't enforce the law, making a court decision on the alliance's request unnecessary.

However, Laplante said the city of Concord and the town of Derry could not agree to refrain from enforcing the buffer zone so he issued a temporary order blocking enforcement there.

In his order, Laplante said he granted the temporary restraining order against Concord and Derry largely because of the prospect that the alliance will be successful in its lawsuit. In a ruling last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Massachusetts buffer zone was unconstitutional.

"The plaintiffs persuasively argue that (the New Hampshire law) is materially indistinguishable from the Massachusetts statute that the Supreme Court invalidated," Laplante wrote, also saying that the state attorney general has not tried to argue that the law differs from the Massachusetts law "in such a way that the plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed in this action."

William Hinkle, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, said the governor believes the New Hampshire law is narrower than the Massachusetts law and will withstand a constitutional challenge. He said Attorney General Joseph Foster will spell out the differences as the legal process plays out.

Matt Bowman, the alliance's senior legal counsel, said the judge's order supports the group's contention that buffer zones violate the First Amendment.

"While it's good that the law has been temporarily suspended, we will continue to work toward ensuring that New Hampshire's law is permanently halted," he said in a statement.