Legislators Have Another Chance to Repeal Buffer Zone Law

February 2, 2017

The New Hampshire legislature has its third opportunity to repeal New Hampshire’s anti-First-Amendment “buffer zone” law. Cornerstone supports the repeal effort, offered this year as HB 589, which has eight co-sponsors led by Rep. Kurt Wuelper (R-Strafford).

Cornerstone has recognized from the first introduction of the buffer zone law in 2014 that it seeks to restrict the rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses on public areas near abortion facilities. The law has not yet been enforced, but representatives of abortion providers speaking at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on HB 589 on February 1 told committee members that they were “having conversations” with law enforcement officials in anticipation of establishing “buffers.”

The buffer zone law flies in the face of the McCullen v. Coakley decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which was decided just before then-Governor Hassan signed the bill. In McCullen, a Massachusetts buffer zone law used against peaceful pro-lifers was struck down.

Cornerstone’s Shannon McGinley testified in favor of HB 589, and she reminded the committee of the aftermath of McCullen. “After the peaceful pro-life witnesses in Massachusetts prevailed at the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth was ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees of $1.2 million. The taxpayers, not anti-First-Amendment legislators, were stuck with the bill for defending a bad law. We would be foolish not to take a lesson from our neighbors’ experience.”

She added, “The Massachusetts law was struck down as an impermissible infringement on First Amendment rights because Massachusetts had failed to employ less-restrictive measures to limit the activities of peaceful pro-life witnesses like Eleanor McCullen. Such measures might include enforcement of laws and ordinances against, for example, trespassing, loitering, or disorderly conduct.” McGinley noted that no such laws were being used in New Hampshire against anyone engaged in peaceful activity outside abortion facilities.