November 18, 2013

Anti-abortion protests prompt Portland buffer zone debate

The City Council will vote on establishing a zone around the Planned Parenthood office; protesters vow they won’t go away.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Abraham Hebert stood against the Clapp building in downtown Portland on Friday morning wearing a bear hat with ear flaps, his gloved hands wrapped around a wooden stick.

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Leslie Sneddon of Richmond protests outside Planned Parenthood on Congress Street in Portland on Friday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Leslie Sneddon of Richmond, above, protests outside Planned Parenthood on Congress Street in Portland on Friday. Abraham Hebert, 8, of Waterboro, left, holds a sign among the protesters outside the entrance to Planned Parenthood’s clinic. Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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“Adoption is a loving option,” said the sign on the stick. Abraham had made it himself.

The boy was in a line with 10 other children and their parents outside the entrance to Planned Parenthood’s clinic on Congress Street. Every one had a sign. Some showed quotes from Scripture; others announced that murder was happening inside the clinic. Several had blown-up pictures of fetuses, one whose entangled intestines could clearly be seen from passing cars.

Planned Parenthood employees call it “the gantlet.” And soon, it could be gone.

The City Council is scheduled to take a final vote Monday on a proposal to create a 39-foot buffer zone around entrances to reproductive health care facilities, where protesters would be banned. Planned Parenthood’s clinic near Monument Square is the only reproductive health care facility in Portland.

Portland’s sidewalk protests are similar to those in cities across the country, creating conflicts between freedom of speech and access to health care.

Since the summer of 2012, protesters have stood by the entrance to the Clapp building on Friday and Saturday mornings – and lately on Wednesdays, too – hoping to spread their message to anyone who will listen, particularly the women who are minutes away from having abortions.

“We’ll be here for them, if they change their minds,” said Donna Hebert, Abraham’s adoptive mother, who says she had four abortions before she found God more than 20 years ago.

Hebert, who lives in Waterboro, started the protests after she was contacted by a friend in North Carolina who told her about the abortion clinic in Portland. The same friend connected Hebert with Leslie Sneddon, a woman from Richmond who also deeply regretted her multiple abortions and now regularly protests with her children.

“We’ll help them,” Hebert said of the women who enter the clinic. “That’s what I wish happened for me.”

Helping, however, is the opposite of what the protesters are doing, said Eric Covey, the Maine grass-roots organizer for Planned Parenthood.

He said patients have come into the clinic in tears. They have canceled appointments. They have written testimony saying they feared for their safety.

The buffer zone would create enough space for patients to access the clinic “free of harassment and intimidation,” Covey said.

‘A WIND TUNNEL’

Now, patients can be escorted by “greeters” from Planned Parenthood, the volunteers who began standing next to the protesters outside the building about a year ago.

Joan McDonald, who has been involved with the pro-choice movement since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, was one of two escorts who waited on the sidewalk Friday. She said she offered to help after walking past a protest one morning with her grandchild.

She arrived around 8:30 a.m. Friday, an hour before any protesters showed up. The board atop the nearby Time and Temperature Building said 45 degrees, but it felt much colder around the corner of Congress and Elm streets.

“It’s a wind tunnel,” said McDonald, who wore flannel-lined cargo pants. Soon, she said, she’ll wear long underwear on days she volunteers.

If the City Council enacts the buffer zone, it will take effect Dec. 18. The protesters have said they would challenge the decision in court, as anti-abortion protesters in other cities have done. In the meantime, they said, they would simply move across the street.

Whatever happens is part of the Lord’s plan, Sneddon said.

“If He wants us to cross the street, if He wants his message proclaimed to other parts of Portland, so be it. We’re going to be fine with that,” she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Donna Hebert and her son Jonathan Hebert, 20, of Waterboro protest outside Planned Parenthood on Congress Street in Portland on Friday.

  


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Today's poll: Planned Parenthood

Should the Portland City Council vote in favor of a 39-foot protest-free buffer zone around the entrances to Planned Parenthood?

Yes

No

View Results