Sidewalk counselors ministering outside Maine abortion facilities now risk a fine and even jail time if they get too close to the door, due to a new state law that went into effect last month. The law allows “medical safety zones” extending eight feet from an entryway. While the legislation’s language does not specify abortion facilities, the Portland Press Herald reports that it was the regular pro-life presence outside a Portland Planned Parenthood that spurred abortion supporters to advocate for the buffer zone law.
According to WMTW, local medical facilities have to opt-in if they want to establish the zone outside their facility. Thus far, only Planned Parenthood in Portland has taken advantage, going so far as to paint bright green lines on the sidewalk indicating where the pro-life advocates must stop.
Planned Parenthood of New England senior vice president of public affairs Nicole Clegg claims that the enforcement zone was necessary due to the impact the pro-lifers were having on visitors to the abortion facility, saying, “There are physical responses that they can have when they have to sort of walk through this gauntlet of people with graphic posters, saying really offensive and upsetting things to them.”
Clegg also acknowledged that the law won’t limit the activity of pro-life sidewalk counselors altogether. “People are still going to have to walk by them – but at a minimum, they can get into the door without anybody in their way,” she said.
Abortion advocates often paint the pro-life presence outside abortion facilities as hostile, indicating that pro-lifers block entrances and harass women as they enter the facility, but most of the time, pro-lifers are there as peaceful, prayerful witnesses, offering to help and counsel abortion-minded women who are open to other options. Women have even spoken out about changing their minds after interacting with these sidewalk counselors.
John Andrade, who ministers outside the Planned Parenthood facility, told the Portland Press Herald that he was disheartened to hear such lies told about the pro-life activity during testimony for the new law. “I listened to them just lie, saying we run up in people’s faces and yell three inches from their face,” he said. “We’ve never done even remotely close to that.”
Legal experts say they do expect a challenge to the new law as a potential infringement of free speech.