Mark Hayward's City Matters: Clinic neighbor worries about expanding buffer zone
It's gotta be tough to be in the abortion business.
Right-leaning politicians and lawyers are always cooking up ways to shut you down. And every day you go to work, you can expect to see people out there with signs, rosary beads, pamphlets, even bullhorns.
You might say it comes with the territory.
But that territory may soon be moving to the front of the house of Greg Salts, who has nothing to do with abortions.
Salts lives on the densely populated Pennacook Street, across from the Planned Parenthood clinic where abortions take place. He bought the house 10 years ago, and he said the protests and confrontations, while not far away, were at least across the street.
But legislation has already passed the New Hampshire Senate to create a 25-foot buffer zone that would essentially push protesters to the sidewalk in front of his house.
"What I am concerned about is pro-life picketers with graphic signs standing on the sidewalk directly in front of my house and leaving the impression that I am an abortion doctor whom they're protesting," Salts said. "Planned Parenthood has bullet-proof windows. I don't."
Another resident of Pennacook Street, who would not give his name, said he favors abortion rights, but doesn't want protesters on his side of the street, praying Hail Marys outside his bedroom window.
"If they're here, I'm going to be running out screaming at these people," he said outside his apartment.
Salts and his neighbor find themselves on a narrow sidewalk, one that straddles two opposite forces that frequently collide head-on.On one side, Planned Parenthood insists its patients have the right to harassment-free health care, which includes a wide range of services, not just abortion. Planned Parenthood said patients are accosted while entering the clinic. At best, they're handed pamphlets and urged "don't do it," according to accounts compiled by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.At worst, they're called baby killers and have their pictures taken, according to the accounts.
On the other side are pro-lifers, who say they have a constitutional, First Amendment right to be outside the clinic. They say most of the people pray quietly, while a few "counselors" approach patients and ask them to take material or reconsider.
Last week, a daily prayer vigil — Forty Days of Life — started and will continue through mid-April. The pro-lifers, who object to being called protesters, said they received their share of taunts. In 2004, police arrested a neighbor for pointing a shotgun at them.
If forced, they will move across the street.
"I don't think we should be across the street. We should be in front of this place," Jeanne Szulc said last week.
Salts said he's worried about the safety of his family.
"I've seen people get out of their cars and scream at (the protesters). But that's all happened across the street. There's a degree of separation," Salts said.
(Salts is a former Republican state representative, who served a term in the early 2000s. Pictures on the wall of his house portray his Christian faith, but he said abortion was never his issue. Most recently, he pressed Second District Congresswoman Annie Kuster about Benghazi during a public forum, and she was criticized for saying Libya isn't in the Middle East.)
Planned Parenthood policy advisor Jennifer Frizzell said the buffer zone is an effort to balance a patient's access to legally protected health services with public safety and an individual's right to privacy.
She said she can't speak about where protesters position themselves.
Asked about the neighbors, she said they should be concerned about the Pray for Life Center, which opened in a first-floor apartment next door to Salts about year ago. It's a gathering space for protesters, she said, and their numbers have increased since it opened, Frizzell said.
"They should work to protect their residential space in the neighborhood from the Pray for Life Center," Frizzell said.
What it comes down to is that the 20-block of Pennacook Street — a residential zone — was never meant for a Planned Parenthood clinic.
In 2001, city regulators nixed the Planned Parenthood clinic for the neighborhood, in part because of objections from pro-lifers, but also because neighbors objected. A court case followed, and the clinic eventually opened in a former auto-parts store.
So now there may be buffer zones, and legally mandated signs delineating "reproductive health center patient safety zone."
Frizzell said the location is great. It's visible, accessible, and close to other medical facilities.
"We really value the location," she said, "and think it's a critical location for access."
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.