U.S. District Judge Rules on Sacramento Abortion Clinic Protest Ordinance
U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell on Wednesday said that an ordinance limiting protests at abortion clinics in Sacramento County is "poorly drafted" and "nonsensical" and ruled that people may stand at a clinic's entrance, make comments and pass out leaflets as long as they do not obstruct or harass patients, the Sacramento Bee reports (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 7/29). The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in December voted to create a 20-foot no-protest buffer zone around reproductive health clinics and doctors' offices where abortions are performed in the county to stop protestors from hindering women's access to the clinics. San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose have approved similar ordinances. Under Sacramento's ordinance, if protesters cross the buffer zone, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and can face fines of as much as $500 and imprisonment in county jails for as long as three months (California Healthline, 12/03/2003).
Damrell's ruling was made at a hearing of two anti-abortion activists' request for a temporary restraining order on enforcement of the ordinance. Harry Reeves and Peter Stillson requested the restraining order, which was implemented June 25, after police threatened them with arrest for distributing pamphlets and displaying protest signs earlier this month. Damrell scheduled a hearing for Sept. 10 on the motion for a preliminary injunction, and the ordinance's constitutionality will be decided in that context, according to the Bee.
Damrell said that he will issue a written order allowing protesters to stand at a clinic's entrance, make comments and distribute leaflets without obstructing or harassing patients. He added that the ordinance already appears to allow such action, but it is "confusing," which has prompted police officers to enforce it more strictly than intended. The ordinance states that protestors cannot harass anyone entering or leaving the clinics. The Bee reports that harassment is defined as "intentionally approach[ing] another person" without consent "for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling with such other person in a buffer zone" (Sacramento Bee, 7/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.