By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,484)
About one hundred and twenty supporters of Planned Parenthood attended a meeting tonight chaired by Ed Suslovic in city council chambers at city hall. Committee members at the much anticipated meeting did not take public comment, but rather it was an opportunity for the Committee members to be appraised of the intimidation and harrassment occurring weekly at the Congress Street Health Center where abortions are regularly performed and decide how to proceed. If there were protestors in attendance, they did not identify themselves.
Since last year, it has been a well-known fact that women entering the health center on Friday and Saturday mornings are met by abortion protestors on the sidewalk harassing and intimidatng patients, non-patients and children who just happen to be in the vicinity – often photographing them and putting them on Facebook. During the winter, protestors were given letters by Trish McAllister, Neighborhood Prosecutor, specifying appropriate behavior for protestors. The Planned Parenthood staff began keeping records. One hundred sixty-one patients filled out forms complaining about the protestors and the negative effect their presence had on them. One hundred fifty-eight patients supported a 35 ft. buffer zone ordinance, despite the certainity of a legal challenge from the protestors. However, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said despite the harassing behavior, no criminal behavior was reported. “We have done all we can do,” he told the Public Safety/Health & Human Services Committee.
Members of the Committee mostly agreed that finding the right balance between protecting first amendment rights and a woman’s right to reproductive health care in a non-threatening environment is a delicate balancing act. While there was significant discussion surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision to consider the State of Massachusetts’s buffer zone ordinance, councilors Leeman, Duson, Coyne agreed that women should not be placed in an intimidating position to receive what is legal reproductive health care. They did not have a problem with pursuing the matter prior to the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts which could be lengthy. Councilor Cheryl Leeman said: “I can’t begin to imagine how women feel going in there. It’s an emotional time and to have to tolerate that harassment. We need to be careful about the legal issue, but people have rights as well.”
Councilor Suslovic, however, disregarded that concern when he sent city staff, Trish McAllilster, Neighborhood Prosecutor, on a fishing trip for information and told her not to return with it until October. Suslovic suggested that a patient buffer zone protection clause might be attached to the panhandler ordinance that goes into effect mid August. “I gave staff a lot to do,” Suslovic told mhn.com as the justification for delaying staff feedback until the October meeting. “I felt that Ed Suslovic was trying to tiptoe around the issue,” said Matt Caston.
One of the attending suppoters of a patient buffer zone, Amy Gaidis, said: “I wish it would move quicker than this. In October, that will be nearly a year since Planned Parenthood had to hire an overtime officer to protect patients entering the Health Center. It’s a personal harassment behavior that comes from the attitude by many men – just grin and bear it. ”
“We are very excited that the Committee is moving forward in examining the possibilities of a patient safety zone,” said Eric Covey, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood following the committee meeting. The zone would address the needs of our patients to access health cae free of harassment and intimidation. We’d like to urge the Portland City Council to move through this process in a timely manner as every Friday and Saturday morning patients are still being harassed as they enter the health center.”
Covey called for a call to action for the public to city councilors to urge their support of a patient safety zone and to pursue it in a timely fashion. In order to sign the Planned Parenthood petition, please click here: http://www.ppaction.org/site/R?i=DHpBMgNaGJZjL77VhiG6eA>