Protesters against Planned Parenthood may have to shout a little louder to be heard if the amendments to the San Francisco Access to Health Care Facilities ordinance introduced by Supervisor David Campos on Tuesday are approved.
The amendments would create a buffer zone in front of health care facilities like the Valencia Street Planned Parenthood clinic that would prohibit protesters, whose main objections are the abortions performed at the clinic, from coming within 25 feet of its entrance and exits.
A similar ordinance is in place for Oakland clinics. Campos’ office and Planned Parenthood cited Massachusetts’ 35-foot zone as an example of successful legislation.
Currently an 8-foot “bubble” law, enacted in 1993, prohibits protesters who are within 100 feet of a health care center from coming within 8 feet of another person and handing them pamphlets or other materials.
“We are quite pleased with the legislation,” Adrienne Verrilli, director of communications and marketing for the Valencia Planned Parenthood, said of the proposed law. “This is a reasonable solution for our clients to have protection from harassment.”
Last year Planned Parenthood installed a white zone, which is restricted to loading and unloading passengers, in front of the clinic to provide more space for patients to enter and to keep protesters from intimidating patients.
Some protesters have found a loophole to the white zone restrictions — an exemption for people with disabilities, as reported by Mission Local. Protesters in wheelchairs are allowed within the white zone as long as they remain seated in their wheelchairs.
Other protesters, such as Ross Foti, are simply cited for obstructing a loading zone.
“I’ve had two violations for blocking the white zone,” said Foti, “and the court dismissed [them].”
Foti received his most recent citation on March 11. While protesting, he displays large signs with grisly medical photos and plays Christmas music from his truck near the clinic.
“It’s better to be close than far,” Foti said. “[With] 25 feet you can’t get to the people.”
He told Mission Local he would keep to his weekly protesting schedule. “I will figure out a way to compensate for that,” he said of the 25-foot buffer.
With the new legislation, Campos and Planned Parenthood want to take enforcement a step further. A violation of the new ordinance would be charged as a misdemeanor, with the potential for three months in jail or a $500 fine.
“Our only remedy right now is a citizen’s arrest, and a slap on the wrist,” said Verrilli.
“I can’t believe it,” said Foti when he heard of the new legislation. “Planned Parenthood is the archenemy of free speech.”
Foti’s lawyer, Katie Short of the Life Defense Legal Foundation, has represented him in First Amendment cases for 20 years. She said that he can take the city to court for violating his freedom of speech.
“The city will be sued,” Short said.
Verrilli said the new legislation achieves a fair balance between access to services and protesters’ freedom of speech.
“It mirrors pretty much other cities’ policies,” said Campos aide Stephany Ashley.
Ashley said Campos and Planned Parenthood worked on the legislation for a year and a half.
Recently there has been an increase in activity outside the facility. Verrilli said more protesters, including a group called “40 Days for Life,” are protesting regularly, making it difficult for Planned Parenthood staff and patients to enter the building.
“It’s a complete circus out there,” she said. “We really have no other solution for the bullying and harassment.”
A board committee is expected to hear arguments for the legislation next month.