Around New England

New Hampshire House Rejects Repeal of Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Law

February 3, 2019

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has rejected a bill that would have repealed a 2015 state law giving abortion clinics the right to draw a 25-foot buffer zone to keep anti-abortion protesters away.

New Hampshire House Bill 124, sponsored by nine Republicans and no Democrats, called for repealing the abortion-clinic-buffer-zone law on the grounds that it “would infringe on the free speech rights of innocent people” and “if implemented would be subject to immediate constitutional challenge.”

Pro-lifers often gather outside abortion clinics to pray and protest, and some of them, known as sidewalk counselors, approach women walking toward an abortion clinic to try to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Massachusetts once had a statute similar to New Hampshire’s prohibiting protesting and sidewalk counseling within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. But in June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law on free speech grounds (in a case called McCullen v. Coakley).

Pro-lifers subsequently challenged New Hampshire’s buffer-zone law in federal court, but in January 2017 a federal judge in Boston decided that since abortion clinics in New Hampshire have never tried to establish a buffer zone around them, there was no need for him to rule on the constitutionality of the state statute.

This week the House voted 228-141 against the bill, with 6 members not voting and 25 absent. The vote took place Thursday, January 31.

Democrats control the New Hampshire House of Representatives, 233-167. (Democrats also control the New Hampshire Senate, 14-10.)

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