CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a law yesterday that allows New Hampshire's reproductive health facilities where abortions are offered to set buffer zones of up to 25 feet around their entrances.
The law was filed in response to protests and picket activity at Planned Parenthood's health center in Manchester. It takes effect in 30 days. Bill supporters said more than 60 patient complaints have been logged since the beginning of 2013.
Planned Parenthood in Derry will not be affected by the new law because it does not provide abortions. But the office does provide abortion referrals to clinics in the state, including Manchester’s Planned Parenthood.
“They (Planned Parenthood in Manchester) have the most protest activity in the state,” said NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire volunteer coordinator Tegan Donnelly.
Opponents argued the measure infringes on the free speech rights of abortion opponents, but Hassan disagreed.
"Women should be able to access critical health services without fearing for their safety and this bipartisan, commonsense measure will help ensure the safety of patients and the public, while also protecting the rights of free speech and privacy," Hassan said.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the constitutionality of a 35-foot protest free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics.
"I think this is great and I wish this would be implemented nationwide.” Donnelly said. “Women are going to get the safety and protection they deserve.”
The law states that demonstrations like picketing these facilities cause fear among patients, employees, residents and patrons in the area. Those who violate the law are subject to a minimum $100 fine.
Demonstrators will still be allowed to "communicate their message to their intended audience" as long as it is outside of the buffer zone, according to the law.
The facilities must place signs marking off the buffer zone.
The state Senate passed the bill, 15-9, on Feb. 19 and the House passed the bill on May 15, 162-100.
The law goes into effect July 10.