July 30, 2013

Police to report on Portland abortion protests

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of protest buffer zone law.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

At a meeting of a City Council subcommittee Tuesday, the Portland Police Department will report on the weekly anti-abortion protests outside Planned Parenthood's clinic on 443 Congress St.

click image to enlarge

In this October 2012 file photo, anti-abortion demonstrators protest with graphic signs outside the Planned Parenthood of New England agency on Congress Street in Portland, Maine. At a meeting of a City Council subcommittee Tuesday, the Portland Police Department will report on the weekly anti-abortion protests outside Planned Parenthood's clinic on 443 Congress St.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

In this January 2013 file photo, an anti-abortion protester and a pro-choice advocate exchange words in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic at 443 Congress St. in Portland.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

In preparation for the meeting, and on the request of the subcommittee, police officials have also looked into steps taken in other communities to limit anti-abortion protests.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Monday his department wasn't asked to talk about placing limits on the protesters, but it has researched ordinances and laws enacted by other cities and states and is prepared to answer questions.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, has put out a call to pack the council chambers for the 6 p.m. meeting of the Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, even though the agenda says no public comments will be allowed.

The reproductive health care provider has been collecting signatures on a petition to urge the City Council to adopt an ordinance that would create a buffer zone to prohibit protesters from coming within a certain distance of the clinic's entrance.

Since last summer, 10 to 20 protesters have stood outside the clinic every Friday morning with pictures of aborted fetuses and pamphlets to discourage clients from choosing abortion. More recently, they have been showing up on Saturday mornings, too.

City officials said in December they were looking into their legal options for limiting the protests, but the matter has not come before the council and the meeting Tuesday is seen by some as a possible first step in the process.

Such ordinances have ignited debates in courtrooms throughout the country about the First Amendment rights of protesters versus the rights of people seeking reproductive health care.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a Massachusetts law, enacted in 2007, that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances and driveways of reproductive health clinics.

The city of Burlington, Vt., which last year adopted an ordinance modeled after the Massachusetts law, is fighting an appeal from a group of local protesters in federal court, said city attorney Eileen Blackwood.

Leslie Sneddon and Donna Hebert, two regular protesters in Portland, said that if the city adopted an ordinance with a buffer zone, they would fight it in court. Sneddon said they've already talked to lawyers.

Representatives of Planned Parenthood couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

None of the members of the City Council subcommittee returned phone calls or emails Monday afternoon asking for their thoughts about a buffer zone ordinance.

Sauschuck said his department has "done everything legally possible to defend everybody's rights," from the clients and staff of Planned Parenthood to the protesters.

He said police have not witnessed any criminal activity during the protests, but that the activity is intimidating to some.

"We certainly do have a group of individuals that feel intimidated or harassed," he said.


Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at



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