A proposed ordinance, if it becomes law, would ban protesters from a 30-foot "buffer zone" around the entrances and exits of York City healthcare facilities.
Though the legislation is not specific to Planned Parenthood, that's where the idea came from.
"For decades, there has been some harassing conduct, intimidation from protesters outside of our various facilities," said Sarah Newman, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood clinics in the region, including York's. "Sometimes protesters have completely blocked entrances to medical facilities. There's certainly been harassment or intimidation of both our patients and our staff."
Some Planned Parenthood facilities, including York's center at 728 S. Beaver St., provide abortion services.
Newman said there are two cities in Pennsylvania, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, that have similar buffer-zone legislation.
Such zones "allow a safe space for women to enter the facility" without trampling on free-speech rights, Newman said.
At the Harrisburg office, where Newman works, protesters regularly demonstrate. But, she said, patients and staff are guaranteed "clear access" to the front door.
According to a draft of York City's proposal, "No person or persons shall knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the zone.
Healthcare facilities include hospitals, medical offices and clinics licensed by the state.
A person who violates the proposed law could be required to pay a fine of at least $100 on the first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry the possibility of jail time and bigger fines.
The draft proposal lays out an explanation for the law.
First, the council declares that the city has a "substantial interest" in protecting patients' access to medical counseling and treatment.
"The council further recognizes that the people's right to protest or counsel against certain medical procedures is protected by the First Amendment and the exercise of this right must be balanced against the people's right to obtain medical counseling and treatment free from violence, intimidation or obstruction," the proposal reads.
According to the draft, the York City Police Department and other city police departments "have been consistently called upon to mediate the disputes between those seeking medical counseling and treatment and those who would counsel against their actions."
The proposal seeks "to reduce the risk of violence and ensure unobstructed access to health care facilities."
Enforcement of the buffer zone is designed to be "content-neutral" and "without regard to the message or viewpoint of the speaker."
The council spent little time discussing the proposal at its Dec. 18 committee meeting. However, it decided to move the proposal on to its next voting meeting in January.
-- Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.