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Petition seeks buffer zone for protesters at Concord Feminist Health Center

  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • There is a petition to the city council asking for a 35-foot buffer zone outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street. Bob and Eileen Ehlers were in front of the center on Friday afternoon, May 17, 2013, volunteering to escort patients inside. The current buffer zone is 8 feet from the steps of the center, a distance Eileen measured and marked with chalk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Eileen Ehlers draws a line of chalk in front of the Concord Feminist Health Center on Friday afternoons.

Ehlers, a volunteer escort for the health center on South Main Street, makes the chalk mark 8 feet from where she stands at the foot of the stairs in a neon orange vest, waiting to usher patients past pro-life protesters and to their appointments.

A city ordinance allows her to ask the protesters, who are often present Friday afternoons, to remain 8 feet away from her. They are usually peaceful, she said, but she’s seen them intimidate and argue with patients. So Ehlers helped organize a petition asking the Concord City Council to adopt an ordinance for a buffer zone. They want to keep protesters 35 feet away from entrances to reproductive health clinics.

The petitioners’ proposed ordinance would apply to any reproductive health clinic – not just the Concord Feminist Health Center on South Main Street.

The petition, with nearly 50 signatures, was submitted to the city council and referred to the city’s legal department. City Solicitor Jim Kennedy said last week that he hasn’t completed his analysis of the issue. The legal department will respond with a report to the city council, and any change to city ordinances would require a public hearing and vote.

Dalia Vidunas, the Concord Feminist Health Center’s executive director, said the center didn’t create the petition, though she did add her name to the list of petitioners. When Vidunas learned about the petition, she was already taking other steps to cope with protests outside the center’s front door.

She met with representatives from health clinics across the state last week, including Planned Parenthood. Vidunas said the centers are working with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union to address concerns over aggressive protesters.

Protesting “ebbs and flows” at the Concord center, Vidunas said, but it has increased in recent months.

“We just want safe passage for our patients, for our clients coming in,” she said. “And that is first and foremost.”

Her next steps after that meeting will include a more formal training for volunteer escorts and a thorough documentation of incidents with protesters.

Vidunas said she is called outside several times a week to deal with reports of aggressive protesters shouting at patients or blocking parking meters. Sometimes there are a few people, and sometimes there is a large group. If they don’t respond to her requests to stop, she calls the police or the city’s code enforcement office. She estimated that she contacts city officials several times a month, and she said they are always responsive.

Devon Chaffee, director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said she’s working to find “the proper and appropriate response” to concerns about protesters.

“Clearly the NHCLU is concerned both with the ability of women to be able to access health care, as well as making sure that we’re preserving the First Amendment rights of protesters,” Chaffee said.

The Monitor visited the center three times in the past month while protesters were outside and did not see them interact with volunteer escorts or the patients.

Terry Barnum of Concord said he stands on the sidewalk outside the center every Friday morning. One recent morning, his sign said “Stop killing our children stop abortion.” Sometimes he’s joined by others, but he also comes alone.

“I’m just a human being who is opposed to killing children,” Barnum said.

Barnum said he is exercising his right to free speech, and he only speaks to patients coming and going from the center “if people want to have a dialogue.” Otherwise, he said he prays silently.

“We’re not blocking any entrance at all,” Barnum said. “Our mission here is to let people know what’s going on inside.”

Susan Damour, the volunteer escort outside the center while Barnum was there on a recent Friday morning, said protesters could still exercise their free speech with a buffer zone.

“We are not out here to change the minds of anyone who doesn’t agree with Roe v. Wade,” she said.

But she also doesn’t want protesters to impede patients’ access to health care.

Damour said patients all enter through the front door on South Main Street, but can choose to exit through a back door after their appointments.

As a man and woman left the center onto South Main Street, Damour stood at the bottom of the steps to block their view of a protester’s sign.

“For the most part, they’re a nuisance,” she said. “It’s unusual for them to be really boisterous.”

One Friday last month, Ehlers said she saw a protester get into a long verbal argument with a man who had just left the clinic with a woman. She said she fears a situation could grow violent, and she hopes a buffer zone would prevent confrontations.

“It’s a hard enough day for the women who come in here,” Ehlers said.

Not every patient who enters the clinic is there for an abortion, Vidunas said. The center offers a number of reproductive health services.

Jim Herrick prays the rosary outside the Concord Feminist Health Center on Friday afternoons. He said he’s been doing it for 18 years.

“I don’t even know if you could call us protesters,” he said. “We’re standing there praying.”

Herrick said he doesn’t talk to patients coming and going from the clinic, or protest loudly.

“It isn’t like any of us enjoy it,” Herrick said, but he keeps going because “in simple language, it’s baby killing. And it’s wrong.”

Herrick said a buffer zone would be meant “to shut us down” and move protesters across the street.

Ehlers said the center’s small location on South Main Street makes a buffer zone more important; protesters and patients now must share a narrow sidewalk.

The petition states that “physical patient-protester buffers such as this have reduced unwelcome physical interactions and/or violence in other cities and states.” It cites examples of “buffer zone” laws in Massachusetts, Colorado, Montana and cities across the country.

In Concord, an existing city ordinance prohibits demonstrating in an aggressive manner, blocking pedestrian access or traffic, touching people and failing to stay 8 feet away upon someone’s request. Three or more protesters gathered together must register with the city. Vidunas said groups of protesters often tell her that they’re not part of the same group, or that it’s a coincidence they’re there at the same time.

If Concord’s legal department recommends a change to existing ordinances, the city council would hold a public hearing and vote.

Regardless of the city’s action, Vidunas said she’s confident that efforts with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and other health centers could alleviate some of the problems caused by protesters.

“And again, it’s just trying to make sure that we are using the pooling resources and doing . . . what makes the most sense statewide versus going to each municipality, because that’s a lot,” she said. “That’s difficult doing that, time and energy-wise, just since we are having the same issues.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Legacy Comments19

The Concord Feminist Health Center and other reproductive health care clinics are very important to women and families in this state. They provide more than just abortions; they provide women the personal health and family planning care they need without placing judgement on the recipients of their care- allowing the woman her inherent right to choose what she chooses and that meets her health care needs. I learned how important this was when my own mother made a decision in 1971 (prior to Roe V Wade) that when she was in medical need of a hysterectomy, that she would have gone away and had an illegal abortion in order to have her medical procedure [this caveat is important because she was devoutly Christian and told me she would have chosen to condemn herself rather than raise another child in our abusive household and she would have done it secretly and without my father's permission-- this took an enormous amount of courage on her part because of the abuse she suffered by my father]. This has always stuck with me- that you never truly know why someone makes the decision.

It's so funny how society always has an answer for it's own selfish pursuits. People always try to say creating a "black market for contraceptives, and force most women seeking abortions to the back alleys again" is the reason for a so called intellectual approach to saying hey let's do what we want because that's our right. Society is always about band-aids rather than just trying to fix a problem. I always wondering how many abortions were the results of heinous crimes, i.e rape or molestation or is it fair to say most are just truly a "convenience" or satisfying one's own personal wants & desires. Let's see, hard to get pregnant when you follow just plain math, don't or if you do plan ahead. Wait, that's wrong, society says that's stupid so I guess that's solves the problems. Again, the harder society tries to solve its problems, the more it keeps sinking into silly theories.

Perhaps Mr. Barnum prays silently; but when I've walked by the group is praying aloud and in unison. In and of itself, this is an act that would feel judgmental, condemning, and intimidating to a woman having to walk within a sidewalk's width of the protesters in order to enter the clinic.

Obviously they're not praying loud enough. :( So sad.

It's a woman's body so we decide who's born, not men or their gods.

white_crow, I pass by frequently, and couldn't agree more. I have encountered a protester sitting in the entrance way with a protest sign and an aggressive woman chasing after any woman, patient or pedestrian, asking them not to go inside.

Abortion should be, in Bill Clinton's words, "safe, legal, and rare." Those who make access to family planning services, including abortion, more difficult, often also tout the efficacy of "abstinence only" sex-ed, but in fact make pregnancy more likely, and do little to reduce the numbers of abortions--which they claim so fervently to oppose. What they actually hate is sex. In fact, if they had their way, and succeeded in outlawing abortion, they'd next try to put restrictions on the availability of contraceptives. They'd only succeed in creating a black market for contraceptives, and force most women seeking abortions to the back alleys again. For a certain strain of conservative, one who piously invokes God for support, having to seek an abortion from the likes of a Kermit Gosnell is just deserts for the shameful act of out-of-wedlock pregnancy. He's a reminder of what it was like for any women who wasn't rich, but who needed an abortion. We can all pretend it never happened back in the day when "men were men, and women were women."

Women "needing" an abortion. Beyond the life of the mother, there is no "need" for an abortion. It has nothing to do with God, it has to do with being smart, taking precautions and self control. Contraceptives are dirt cheap, Wal-Mart charges as little as $10 per month for many prescriptions. Please tell us where those "back alleys" are?

Crow, praying the Rosary which Mr. Barnum, myself and many others have done in front of this ABORTION FACTORY, is a meditative prayer based upon the lives of Jesus Christ and His mother Mary. Listen to it on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L-Op-3DUPw and you will hear that it is far from being judgmental, condemning or intimidating!

Thank you to Eileen, Bob, and all of the other volunteers who take time to see to it each patient feels as safe and comfortable as possible when seeking reproductive health care. No one should feel slighted or harassed when seeking care. We all have our views, our choices in life. Perhaps we could move things forward by finding our way to universal health care, providing comprehensive sex ed to our children, and making sure contraceptives are widely available at little or no cost. We do these things, we all benefit. That is a far better course than infringing upon reproductive rights.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a feminist as "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women" yet we see first hand that these rights are more than equality, they are asking for things that are above any other gender, even natural law. Can a male even think about doing some of the things that sinister legislation has allowed for feminism. Some feminist cry foul when someone opposes and the first place they place blame is "religion" yet how many feminist claim to be god fearing individuals or wait, maybe they rather not believe in God as that would force responsibility? Let me see, a God - whatever one would believe has powers of omnipotence yet he or she must not have kept up with the times because any religion I have known has it's roots in life, peace, and goodwill. Look at all the feminist movements - abortion, same sex marriages, crisis centers with an act named in your favor, the VAWA and we wonder why society is failing, not an opinion but a supported fact, statistics don't lie. Acts of hate and animosity being justified all in the name of the law. Anyone remember when men were men and women were women and we didn't need deceitful, sneaky legislation and so called sinister places for refuge to do what, commit acts no other gender are allowed? Interesting.

ROE V WADE!!!!

The People v Kermit Gosnell!!!

Tell me . . . can a person believe Gosnell is guilty and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and also believe in a woman's right to choose a safe, legal abortion??? Are these two opinions mutually exclusive? I think not! I hold both of them, and I'm not having an existential crisis.

Whats he guilty of?

Reply to the comment below: Gosnell is guilty of killing babies. Let me clarify that for those who would call me a hypocrite. Gosnell is guilty of killing VIABLE babies OUTSIDE the womb. Abortion is NOT the killing of VIABLE babies OUTSIDE the womb. There's a difference.

GWTW he was found guilty on three of the four counts of first-degree murder, for killing babies that had been born alive in his clinic after induced labor. He was found not guilty on the fourth charge, but was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of a 41-year-old woman who died of lethal drug overdose while undergoing an abortion.

So its a matter of mere inches then? If Gosnell had snipped the spinal cords of the babies in the womb, its abortion, outside...its murder??

I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare. The truth is, if we had more intelligent, thoughtful and caring people in this world there would be no need for abortion(except in the case of rape, etc.) People would THINK before getting pregnant, and use proven effective birth control otherwise. But alas, this is another example of how selfish, ignorant and addicted to instant gratification our society and its citizens have become. So, in closing, I believe abortion should be legal(except in the case of late-term pregnancy) for the simple fact that you can't burp, breastfeed, or change a diaper on a zygote. What Gosnell did was to murder a living, breathing, viable human being. There's a difference: a) zygote b) living, breathing, viable human being.

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