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St. Louis aldermen refile bill to establish buffer zone around Planned Parenthood

Patients entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis are often greeted by a line of protesters.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters hold signs outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis that provides abortions, in 2014.

St. Louis aldermen have reintroduced a bill to create a buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood's building in the Central West End, the state's only operating abortion clinic. A previous attempt stalled earlier this year.

Protesters generally gather near the building's driveway entrance at 4251 Forest Park Ave., asking women not to enter. The new proposal would require protesters to stay eight feet away from the driveway area of a health care facility.

The proposal is modeled after laws in other states, said Alderman Christine Ingrassia, the first of six cosponsors of the bill.

“It provides a level of safety for the patients, and provides a nice balance of first amendment rights of demonstrators,” said Ingrassia, who represents the 6th Ward.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that called for a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics in 2014, but left intact a Colorado law that gives patients and staff an eight foot “bubble” as they approach the building.

State legislators in Massachusetts passed its law after a mass shooting at an abortion clinic  left two dead and five wounded in 1994. Colorado's rule was in place when a gunman attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in the fall of 2015, killing three. 

The group that organizes protesters outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End argued that an eight foot buffer would hinder “sidewalk counselors,” who approach patients as they drive into the parking lot and attempt to direct them to religiously affiliated pregnancy centers.

“When we interact with those people, as they’re pulling in to the driveway, we offer positive alternatives,” said Brian Westbrook, executive director of Coalition for Life St. Louis. “Creating a buffer would be a direct violation of First Amendment rights.”

Jesse Lawder, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, disagreed.

“Planned Parenthood unquestionably believes in First Amendment rights,” Lawder wrote. “We also believe that whether you are in need of health care or you’re providing it, safe and unobstructed access to health care facilities is essential.”

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB