People take sides on reproductive health clinic “buffer zone” ordinance

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – People packed into a meeting at the Neighborhood Policing Center in East Columbus to take sides on a proposed city ordinance that would create “buffer zones” around reproductive health clinics.

Supporters of Ordinance 1458-2016 said it would keep patients and health care workers safe, while opponents said it limits their free speech and right to protest.

“This ordinance does not inhibit or punish peaceful protests or prayer vigils,” said Elizabeth Brown, the city council member sponsoring the ordinance. “There is no other legal health service that people are blocked from accessing. There is no other legal health situation where strangers feel entitled to impose their will on someone else.”

One Planned Parenthood worker said she was afraid, every day, of coming to work and facing the protesters.

“I am afraid for myself, I am afraid for my coworkers, and most importantly, I am afraid for my patients,” she said.

The proposed ordinance would stop protesters from blocking, harassing or following anyone outside clinics. A violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

Protesters said they are not being violent and that they are trying to help women. One said she had helped several women who were dropped off by men, coerced into having an abortion.

“My heart is to offer help because a woman going into Planned Parenthood could have been me,” one protester said. “That could have been my story. I could have been walking into Planned Parenthood seeking an abortion. We all have a past.”

Another protester said there was no evidence of any women being harassed and said that there is always a police officer stationed outside the clinic.

“’If it doesn’t fit, we must acquit,’ Johnnie Cochrane said. Where’s some evidence? It’s easy to lie,” he said.

Brown said the overall goal of the ordinance is to keep people safe.

“Women should be able to access their constitutionally protected right,” Brown said. “Health care workers should be able to do their jobs, and they should be able to do these things without fear of harassment, intimidation and violence.”

City council members will take up the issue again on Monday for a second reading, at which point it could be passed if a majority of members vote for it.

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