Bernalwood brings you this legal analysis from our Pregnant Reporter, Jennifer Phillips
A few days ago, MissionLoc@l ran a story about the anti-abortion protesters in front of the new Planned Parenthood clinic on Valencia Street. I live just a few blocks from the clinic, and I’m annoyed at the protesters’ presence in my neighborhood. But the protesters’ time on the sidewalk may be limited: There’s a law on the SF books that says they may be liable for 3 months in jail or a $500 fine for being too close to the clinic.
San Francisco municipal code, Article 43, Section 4302 states that health clinics must have a “buffer zone” around them. Specifically, protesters must not be located within “an 8-foot radius extending in all directions from the individual seeking access to, passage from, or services within the healthcare facility.”
But as you can see by this video and these pictures, the sidewalk in front of the clinic is only about 9 feet at its widest. Since the protesters are on the sidewalk, and because the buffer zone extends in all directions from a person or their outstretched arm, there’s no way they’re 8 feet away from clinic patients.
The penalties for violating San Francisco’s buffer zone law is $500 fine or 3 months jail for the first offense, and $1000 fine or 6 months in jail for subsequent offenses. In addition, if someone did choose to sue the protesters under the law, the protesters would be liable for the plaintiff’s legal charges, $1000, and possibly punitive damages. The protesters seem very confident they know the Lord’s law, but in the meantime they’re in violation of man’s law.
Adrienne Verrilli, Director of Communications and Marketing for the local Planned Parenthood, says the clinic is very aware of the law, but “we really just don’t have a way to have eyes and ears on the street to see if it’s being enforced. And if there are more peaceful ways to deal with this, we want to find those ways.”
She says the clinic’s 15-some staff members have been so busy providing services like family planning and STD tests that it just hasn’t become a priority yet. She said staff is still growing, but if it comes down to “taking care of the client or dealing with crazy people, we choose the clients.”
Verrilli believes that it would be necessary to prove that the protesters had been consistently violating Article 43, Section 4302 in order to have a solid case against them. However, the clinic will have an escort program up and running in 2 months that could allow for more rigorous observation. Verrilli expects that the clinic will be ready to enforce the buffer zone “next year… unless we’re able to get a buffer zone through the Board of Supervisors before then.”
On a more personal note, as a local resident and currently cranky pregnant lady, I asked Verrilli if it would do any good to give in to my impulse to give the protesters a piece of my mind next time I pass. Don’t bother, she said. “It is not worth anyone’s breath to engage with the protesters. Facts are not something they are interested in hearing.” So while debate might not change much on the street, there is a legal way to battle the protesters. And whether they believe in the law or not, the protestors are subject to it.