July 09. 2014 8:27PM

Abortion clinic buffer put on hold after court ruling

New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester resident Marty Dowd, center, leads informational picketers outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Manchester last month. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — A federal judge on Wednesday put a temporary halt to the state law that establishes a buffer zone around abortion clinics, issuing an order on the eve the law was to go on the books.

In a seven-page order issued late Wednesday, District Court Judge Joseph Laplante told the communities of Concord and Derry they could not enforce the provisions of the buffer zone law against clinics within their boundaries.

Laplante noted that other communities, including Manchester and Keene, as well as county prosecutors and Attorney General Joseph Foster have agreed to not enforce the law until the judge holds a hearing in his courtroom on July 25.

Michael Tierney, a lawyer for some of the marchers outside the clinic - whom Tierney refers to as "sidewalk counselors" -- said he sought a restraining order after state officials and Planned Parenthood spokesmen said they were studying the newly passed state law in light of the June 26 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down a similar buffer-zone law in Massachusetts.

Officials in Burlington, Vt., Portland, Maine, and Madison, Wisc., stopped enforcing buffer zones after the ruling, Tierney said.

“I was perhaps naively thinking New Hampshire would follow suit,” he said.

A spokesman for Planned Parenthood, which operates clinics in several New Hampshire locations, was not available for comment late Wedensday. Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood said it was evaluating the McCullen v Coakley decision and had no present intentions of posting a buffer zone at its New Hampshire clinics.

The state law requires clinic owners to clear some administrative hurdles with city or town officials before the zone goes into effect.

On Monday, Tierney and lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom and the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University requested a restraining order against Foster, five county attorneys and municipal government where clinics are located.

The law calls for a $100 minimum fine for anyone who violates a buffer zone after being given a warning by police.

In his ruling, Laplante noted that Foster and the prosecutors in Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham, Cheshire and Strafford counties agreed they would not enforce the law before notifying him and Tierney's clients. Manchester, Greenland and Keene also agreed to hold off.

But lawyers representing the communities of Concord and Derry would not agree to do so. The order applies to them specifically, but all parties will have a chance to argue their case on July 25.

Laplante said Right to Life has a strong argument.

“As the plaintiffs note, the key factor in the temporary restraining order calculus is a likelihood that they will succeed on the merits of their claims,” Laplante wrote. “The plaintiffs persuasively argue that (the state law) is materially indistinguishable from the Massachusetts statute that the Supreme Court invalidated.”

Tierney said he expects people will be in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic Thursday. He said they are not picketers.

“There are going to be providing information about alternatives to abortion in a loving, compassionate manner,” he said.