Abortion debate rages on over sidewalk space

April 18, 2013 5:37:05 PM PDT
The debate over abortion has raged for years and lately, a San Francisco sidewalk has become a battleground for those facing off. At City Hall Thursday, those arguing over their rights had their say on a new proposal that's before the board of supervisors.

Current rules say abortion opponents have to stay 8 feet away from potential Planned Parenthood clients, but that hasn't been working out because they've been camped out right in front of the door, putting them in close contact with clients trying to walk in. Now, the safety committee is recommending a 25-foot buffer zone.

"I've never intimidated anybody going into an abortion clinic. I offer them pamphlets with places where they can go get help," Nora Dougherty told the board. Abortion opponents described their interactions with potential Planned Parenthood clients as "compassionate counseling," but abortion rights supporters say the sidewalk protest is tantamount to bullying.

"Because of this ongoing harassment, many of our patients walk through our doors crying and confused by the pamphlets they have been given full of medical misinformation," said Phyllis Schoenwald with Planned Parenthood.

Both sides spoke to a neighborhood safety committee which is recommending a 25-foot buffer zone in front of the entrance to the only Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco. It would prevent protesters from standing or parking anywhere in front of the building and likely place them on the other side of Valencia Street.

"The 25 feet, I think if anything, it encourages yelling. I know that there are those who believe yelling into the clinic is effective and I think they're just going to be yelling louder from 25 feet," said abortion opponent Jamie Blinn.

"Having an abortion isn't an easy decision. It's tough and it makes it even more difficult when you have protesters yelling at you," abortion rights supporter Renee Bracey Sherman said.

Other cities have enacted much larger buffer zones of up to 300 feet, but San Francisco has a history of protecting the right to free speech. The question is whether or not it's infringing on a person's reproductive rights. The buffer zone proposal will go to the full board of supervisors in the next few weeks.

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