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New Bill Would Create Buffer Zones At Abortion Clinics

Backers of new abortion bill from left to right: Kellie Copeland, Naral ProChoiceOhio, Democratic Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan and Democratic Representative Stephanie Howse (at podium)
Jo Ingles
Ohio Public Radio
Backers of new abortion bill from left to right: Kellie Copeland, Naral ProChoiceOhio, Democratic Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan and Democratic Representative Stephanie Howse (at podium)

The mass shooting at an abortion clinic in Colorado that killed four people, including one police officer, late last month is the latest example pro-choice activists say underscores why more needs to be done to protect those facilities.

NARAL Pro Choice Ohio’s Kellie Copeland says anti-abortion groups have endangered abortion providers by using harsh words and tactics, For instance, she says residents in a Dayton area neighborhood recently received postcards bearing gruesome pictures of fetuses and the name and address of a doctor who lived there.

“They have sent these to colleagues and neighbors. They have travelled around with large box trucks with these images. There have been instances where this truck has followed people while they are jogging. Obviously, it is a very coordinated harassment campaign that coincided with the need for a clinic in Dayton to get more doctors to sign on to a variance agreement. This partnership between inflammatory rhetoric and policy and policy makers is very disturbing.”

Representative Stephanie Howse says this is why she’s sponsoring a bill that would set a 15 foot buffer zone around entrances and exits to prevent protestors from blocking patient’s access. The Cleveland area Democrat says her bill would also create a way for employees of abortion clinics to sue those who harass or endanger them.

“Sending thoughts and prayers to victims of violence at reproductive health providers is simply not enough. Anti choice organizations have created a really hostile environment where people with extreme ideologies become motivated to do harm.”

And abortion rights advocates say the problematic language isn’t limited to just outside clinics. Copeland says the state’s top anti-abortion lobbying group has used harsh language about abortion providers that could inspire some unstable people take violent actions.

“We’ve also seen this out of groups more considered mainstream like Ohio Right to Life who have had, just in the past few months, press releases peppered with phrases like a potential black market for the sale of aborted babies or very fringe of civilized society, making accusations that clinics were operating outside the law, which is simply not the case.”

Back in October, Ohio Right to Life’s Stephanie Krider was a speaker in an anti-abortion rally at the Ohio Statehouse.She talked about high profile videos regarding Planned Parenthood’s involvement in selling body parts of aborted fetuses. That captured the attention of state and federal lawmakers who have pushed to defund the organization.

“You want my tax dollars, Planned Parenthood, then stop the crushing. Stop the crushing of innocent human lives.”

Krider is coming out against this new bill. She says she doesn’t believe the words abortion opponents have used in their protests have contributed to the violence against abortion clinics or people who work there.

“I’m not going to take credit or blame for anything that any unstable person has ever done. You know, if they were really serious about restricting that kind of behavior, then why don’t they outlaw, “Catcher in the Rye” while we are at it? We just celebrated the anniversary, or remembered the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Supposedly that was caused by the killer reading, “Catcher in the Rye,” so if we are really concerned about that, let’s ban all books while we are at it.”

And Krider says this bill is unfair, and an infringement of the free speech rights of the thousands of Ohioans who want to speak out against abortion.

“You know the rhetoric they used today is equally insulting. To say that Ohio Right to Life is causing violence, to say that we are annoying? Someone said that. They called us annoying in a press conference.”

Krider says she realizes there has been violence at some abortion clinics in the past but it’s already addressed under current laws.

“Certainly we don’t condone illegal actions in the name of advocacy for the unborn.”

Krider doesn’t think that buffer zone this bill would establish is necessary because there is already federal law that does that. The backers of this bill say they know it is unlikely to be adopted in the Ohio legislature because it is controlled by Republicans.