CONCORD, N.H. — A federal appeals court has upheld a New Hampshire law allowing buffer zones around abortion clinics that supporters say protect women from harassment.
The law allowing buffer zones up to 25 feet has been on New Hampshire’s books since 2014, but no clinic has set up a buffer zone.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said in its Wednesday ruling that anti-abortion activists had no standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law because with no buffer zones in place, their protests have not been affected. It said the case was premature.
“The act is not currently preventing the plaintiffs from engaging in expressive activities in whatever public areas they please,” the court wrote.
The court also rejected allegations that the challenge was valid based on fears that protesters could be prosecuted someday if the zones are set up. The ruling called the arguments “overly speculative allegations of injury.”
While supporters say the zones protect women, opponents say they infringe on their free speech rights. An attorney for the plaintiffs said Thursday the group would decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
“An unconstitutional law shouldn’t remain on the books just because abortionists haven’t taken advantage of the power the law gives them to silence speech,” said attorney Michael Tierney.
The Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Massachusetts shortly after New Hampshire’s law took effect. But unlike the Massachusetts law, New Hampshire’s law does not mandate the buffer zones.
Jennifer Frizzell, vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, called the ruling good news for women seeking reproductive health care in New Hampshire. She said she hopes lawmakers considering proposals to repeal the law will keep it in mind.
“No one should face violence, harassment, or threats when accessing safe, legal health care. New Hampshire women deserve safe passage when entering or exiting reproductive health care facilities,” she said. “Yesterday’s decision preserves the thoughtful law crafted by the (New Hampshire) legislature ….”