San Francisco’s New Muzzle Zone

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos is about to introduce a law to end the city’s 8-foot “bubble zone” around reproductive health clinics in favor of a new 25-foot “buffer zone.”

It’s hard to imagine City Hall entertaining a law to curb the free speech expression of union representatives, Critical Mass bicyclists or anti-war activists, but anti-abortion protest is not welcome in this town.

“We respect the right of people to have freedom of expression,” Campos told the San Francisco Chronicle. “What is happening is more than that; it’s intimidation.”

One man’s free speech is another man’s intimidation. When I went by the Planned Parenthood clinic at 1650 Valencia yesterday, a kindly woman walked up to me and said, “I am here to tell you to use birth control so that you don’t have to kill your baby.”

Now, if I were pregnant and unhappy about it — instead of being too old to have children — I probably wouldn’t have seen her as kindly. I might have considered her remark as intimidation. But as long as she’s not blocking a woman’s ability to get into a clinic, she still has free speech rights.

Campos told me he is highly sensitive to the First Amendment rights of abortion foes. A recently upheld Boston law creates a 35-foot buffer around reproductive clinics. He believes a 25-foot buffer protects the rights of anti-abortion activists without being overly restrictive. The problem with the 8-foot line, he said, is that “it’s very hard to know where that begins and that ends. It is very difficult to enforce.”

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Adrienne Verrilli complained that protesters use legal “loopholes” — they generally don’t walk up to people — when talking to clinic clients. Because police are not always available, clinic staffers have been forced to make citizen’s arrests. After running the pro-life gantlet that occupies a considerable chunk of the narrow sidewalk in front of the clinic, women have been known to enter in tears.

“Most women are going to cry at some point in this process,” Life Legal Defense Foundation attorney Katie Short responded. “And the fact that there are people who are on the sidewalk, and they are reaching out, saying, ‘Please don’t do this. There are other choices.’ That’s their message. Is that going to make some women cry? Yes. And some of those women will make another choice.”

Campos and Verrilli also charged that some of the activists have videotaped clients and employees. I wouldn’t like that, either, although the American Civil Liberties Union’s Michael Risher tells me that videotaping people in public is constitutionally protected.

(So Planned Parenthood should try the same methods — recording illegal behavior and using it to prosecute violators, which Verrilli says staffers have done.)

Otherwise the worst episode they mentioned involved an activist who woke up a woman in the waiting room to urge her to give her child up for adoption — even though the overwhelming majority of clients do not go to the clinic for abortions.

Federal and California laws already prohibit opponents from blocking reproductive health clinics. There’s no need for a new law.

Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].

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