By Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center
Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center has asked the Gainesville City Commission Public Safety Committee to review and authorize a full Commission hearing on adopting a buffer zone (35 feet from the property) and a bubble zone (8 feet around a person entering a facility within 100 feet of said facility) for reproductive health care facilities in Gainesville. The request came due to harassment of patients by the protestors in front of the clinic but particularly after the City of Gainesville issued a permit for “40 Days for Life” (an anti-choice organization) to congregate on the leeway between the street and sidewalk in front of Bread and Roses. There were specific restrictions on the permit and the clinic was told that violation of said restrictions would result in the permit being revoked. There were numerous violations—including trespass on clinic property, graphic signage, and more—but the permit was never canceled.
The two issues at play are privacy and safety. The protestors violate the privacy of someone seeking medical care at a medical facility when they yell at, engage, and/or take photos of that person. A bubble zone will not put an end to these privacy violations, but will at least force the protestors to not violate the personal space of someone entering or exiting a health care facility. The protestors also create unsafe traffic conditions when a dozen or more congregate in front of the building and on the sidewalk around the driveway, blocking the view of traffic for anyone trying to enter or exit. In addition, the protestors approach and engage people in cars stopped in the middle of the street. A bubble zone will keep protestors a safe distance from the driveway so that entering and exiting can occur safely and without impediment. The buffer zone will not stop the protestors from engaging vehicles stopped in the street, but that is up to the Gainesville Police Dept. to enforce.
The City Attorney has advised the Public Safety Committee to not move forward with the proposed zones as it will open the City up to lawsuits, etc., and that there is no demonstrated need (i.e., violence or charges pressed due to harassment, which would require a client to stop or cancel her appointment, call the police, and file a report, which puts her name on record, which violates the whole privacy thing) for such legislation. GPD has advised the Committee to not proceed as well, citing that in areas where buffer zones have been established, the next typical step undertaken by the anti-choice movement members was taunting of law enforcement to make multiple arrests, creating a bottleneck in the criminal justice system. In addition, GPD states that if a buffer zone were established, businesses on the opposite side of the roadway become indirectly and unwillingly involved, which diminishes overall satisfaction with local government. Basically the City doesn’t want to deal with possible lawsuits, and GPD is concerned about being taunted (see how it feels?) and causing disruption to another business (wait, isn’t Bread and Roses a business that IS being disrupted?).
The Public Safety Committee has heard the matter and will hear it again at their next meeting (scheduled for Feb. 28, then apparently canceled – see cityofgainesville.org for updates). The members have requested more information: specifically they want to see a demonstrated need for a buffer/bubble zone. Bread and Roses is prepared to provide some additional documented evidence but – as no one has filed harassment charges – they are unsure if their evidence will be enough for the Committee to forward the item to the City Commission. If you would like to contact the Committee, the members are Chair Yvonne Hinson-Rawls (firstname.lastname@example.org), Lauren Poe (email@example.com), and Todd Chase (firstname.lastname@example.org). (Please note: all such email becomes public record, posted on the Web.) Public Safety Committee meetings are open to the public, so if you want your voice heard on this matter by all means show up whenever the next opportunity occurs.
If the Committee agrees, the full Commission may consider this issue soon – so please keep an eye on local news (and the Bread and Roses Facebook page) and turn out to support patients’ rights if possible. To assist the escorts helping patients cope with this bullying, contact email@example.com. If you are a lawyer looking for some pro bono work, please contact Bread and Roses.