City Attorney Suspends Burlington's Buffer Zone After Supreme Court Ruling | Off Message

City Attorney Suspends Burlington's Buffer Zone After Supreme Court Ruling


File photo
  • File photo
Anti-abortion protesters can now bring their message right up to Burlington's Planned Parenthood.

In response to last Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, Burlington city attorney Eileen Blackwood announced Wednesday that the city has stopped enforcing its buffer zone, which had prevented protestors from coming within 35 feet of reproductive health centers since 2012.

The Supreme Court decision struck down a similar law in Massachusetts, nullifying that state's 35-foot buffer zone on the basis that it violated protesters' free speech.

Blackwood noted in a statement that while the city has suspended the buffer zone, she's determined that the second piece of the ordinance, which prevents people from "knowingly obstructing, detaining, hindering, impeding, or blocking a person’s entry to or exit from such a facility" still stands. The city attorney said she'll ask the City Council to amend the city ordinance accordingly when it meets on July 14.

Both before and after the buffer zone law took effect, anti-abortion protesters congregated near Burlington's Planned Parenthood health center on St. Paul Street. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England advocated for
the buffer zone to protect patients from being harassed.

Jill Krowinski, Planned Parenthood's vice president of education and Vermont community affairs, released a statement: "While we applaud [the] city for upholding the enforcement of obstructing a person’s entry to a reproductive health care facility, we remain deep frustrated that protestors can continue to harass patients. We call upon the City Council to make this a top priority since this is a public safety and an access issue."

Last week, she said that the ordinance had been effective in affording protection. She also noted in a press statement that her organization doesn't believe Burlington's ordinance violates the First Amendment.

Burlington's buffer zone ordinance has also been challenged in court and was under appeal at the time of the Supreme Court ruling.