Article on Bubble Zones (Clinic Escorting)

From a strictly non-legal perspective comes the article entitled Choice Words. It’s a personal opinion on the value and social use of Bubble zones. A Bubble zone is an ordinance (usually handled by individual cities) that declares some area out of bounds for protesting. At the Planned Parenthood clinic I volunteer at, the Bubble zone has two aspects.

PS: here is a more factual Post-Gazette article.

The simple sum-up of why I believe Ms Brown’s First Amendment Claim is erroneous is that 1) the statute she is seeking to overturn is content neutral 2) she is mistaking a Manner of speech restriction for a Speech restriction (the first is allowed [think bull-horns being banned in residential neighborhoods by nuisance ordinances] and the second is not).

1) protesters cannot stand within 15 feet of the clinic entrance. Since the clinic entrance is on an open city street this could theoretically get awkward if Planned Parenthood protester’s weren’t terribly easy to recognize (ie, because tons of ordinary people walk through that special semi-circle en-route to the bus or the bakery). However, as every protester I’ve seen has a) their hands full of literature or b) is carrying a truly large and/or disgusting sign it is fairly easy to enforce.

2) There is a 100 foot area (also measured from the clinic door) where advocates of any viewpoint must respond to requests to back up my moving back 8 feet from the person who asked. I was trained that all kinds of language could serve to ask a protester to move away, but the most common is probably “get away from me!”.

As an escort I could, but don’t, ask protesters to move away from me. See, if they’re focused on me, maybe some people will get into the clinic without being hassled. We never engage and we never ask for attention other than by standing out there in our Planned Parenthood Jerseys, but it is always nice to see people get into the clinic without our help. In fact on my last weekend, every single person came in without needing our help–they were empowered and did it themselves.

On the argument mentioned in the article that a protester (the one suing is Mary Kathryn Brown) is not able to access his or her intended audience I would question as an accurate assesment.

On the 15 foot painted line which mark where protesters can and cannot go, I know from personal experience it is absolutely possible to discern the messages of the protesters from just in front of the clinic doors. Though I am far from an expert, I remember no precedent which requires privately run organizations to allow all speech inside of their facilities. In fact, the very doctrine of designating a space a public forum seems to imply that, unless specifically designed as such, most spaces are not open to all messages and forms of dicussion.

On the 8 foot requestable personal space bubble, I believe that protesters are prevented from a method of distributing their speech rather than the act of speech by the 8 foot personal space bubble. The method which I assume Ms Brown is wishing to engage in is commonly called sidewalk counseling, where a protester walks very close to a patient and speaks to them in a low and hopefully sincere voice. It is this sense of private counsel which Ms Brown and her fellow protesters lose if they are asked to move back, not the ability to convey their messages.

The only other possibility is that Ms Brown is hoping to physically influence, ok, let’s just say it, intimidate, patients coming into the clinic. Protesters sometimes ring the 15 foot circle, forming a seemingly impassable wall (though they are legally banned from forming “human chains”) of yelling people and ugly signs. There are protesters whose choose to wear very disturbing jewelry (a fetus crucifix is one example) which I’m sure is quite upsetting in its detail (and the First Amendment absolutely protects all of the disturbing, upsetting and ugly signs. I am firmly of the belief that all content-based censures are violative of the most basic human right to speak and be heard). However physical intimidation is an action and no speech and therefore is not covered by the First Amendment, or any aspect of the United States Constitution.

The crucified fetus’s message may be most effective when viewed from within 8 feet; however is a speaker chooses a size (and in Ms Brown’s case, volume) of speech which is ineffective, it is not Constitutionally required that the Government support that speech.

On two anecdotal notes I would like to say something.

1) In my limited time at Planned Parenthood I have never heard or seen anyone invoke the 8 foot rule. I have seen protesters step between a woman and her companion to try and separate them, and I have seen protesters specifically set down outside of the 100 foot area where they may be asked to back up.

2) I have stood inside the 15 foot circle and had protesters yell in their best stage voices from the full 15 feet away and I could hear them clearly. I could also hear them quietly saying the rosary and greeting each other good morning.

As I see the protesters have no First Amendment right to have their voices carry inside of the clinic (would the clinic be required to leave its doors open on 20 degree mornings and never install soundproof glass if this was held as true?) since their voices carry just fine to everyone inside of the 15 foot circle I see no First Amendment issue here.

Inspirational Quote:

Clover – Three leaf relates the holy trinity. Four leaf relates good luck. – Sinead Toolis Byrd

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