Painted lines establish a new protest-free-zone outside Planned Parenthood in Portland

“We have to take everyone’s safety seriously and do everything we can to protect them.”
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
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PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) - Brand new neon green lines have been painted on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood in Portland, showing where protesters must stop.

A new state law took effect in August that allows medical facilities to establish and mark a “medical safety zone” that extends eight feet from the center of an entryway.

The law prohibits stepping over the line unless you are walking by or entering or exiting the building. It limits where you stand, not where you speak.

The law does not specifically mention clinics that provide abortion services, but there have been many protests outside Planned Parenthood, especially during the pandemic and since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“There are physical responses that they can have when they have to sort of walk through this gantlet of people with graphic posters, saying really offensive and upsetting things to them,” said Planned Parenthood of Northern New England senior vice president of public affairs Nicole Clegg.

The protesters, who usually convene outside the building on Commercial Street on Fridays, target people seeking abortion care but patients receive all sorts of care at Planned Parenthood, including pap smears and birth control consultations. According to Clegg, birth control appointments at Planned Parenthood clinics in Northern New England are up 20% since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Clegg says that this new law could help create more space between patients and protesters, making it easier for them to access care.

“We have to take everyone’s safety seriously and do everything we can to protect them,” Clegg said.

The law attempts to balance the privacy rights of patients with the free speech rights of protesters. Legal experts say there could be pushback from free speech advocates.

“I think sometimes the closer you are to the facility, the easier it is for the people to target those who they want to hear their message,” said University of Maine Law professor Dmitry Bam. “So, I do expect a legal challenge to come up.”

Medical facilities must opt-in with their local municipality if they want to establish the zone. According to a spokesperson for the city of Portland, Planned Parenthood is the only facility to participate thus far.

The new law makes Maine one of just four states with a law that limits protests near the doors of a clinic.