Minneapolis City Council considers law to create safety zone outside abortion clinics

The Minneapolis City Council is poised to pass a proposal that would make it illegal to block access to abortion clinics.

During a public hearing of the Public Health and Safety Committee on Wednesday, employees of Planned Parenthood’s Minneapolis Health Center told officials that the recent outbreak of protests has put drivers and pedestrians at risk. The Uptown clinic is the only abortion facility in the city.

Similar laws against tampering with reproductive health facilities exist at the federal and state levels, but local law can give police more enforcement powers.

“We’re not doing this to make a point. We’re doing it to make a difference in the lives of women seeking health care,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who authored the legislation.

Planned Parenthood staff and volunteers testified that since the US Supreme Court in late June overturned Roe v. Wade, which has been upholding the federal right to abortion for nearly half a century, anti-abortion protesters showed up in large numbers and with violence. The health center’s parking lot is next to a busy street, where staff and volunteers say they’ve seen near-accidents many times.

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“We’re trying to move forward before an accident happens,” Tim Stanley, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in an interview. “It certainly puts public safety at risk.”

The ordinance would allow the clinic to permanently mark its walking boundaries. Protesters will still be able to stand on the sidewalk near the clinic, as long as they don’t block people from entering or leaving the building.

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The purpose of the legislation is to “provide additional protections for reproductive health care facilities in Minneapolis while protecting the first amendment rights of anti-abortion protesters,” the staff report said.

Some cities and states have successfully mandated safety zones around reproductive health clinics, including a Colorado law that made it illegal for speakers to speak to people within 100 feet of a health care facility without permission. The US Supreme Court upheld that policy in a 2000 decision, but in 2014 struck down a Massachusetts law that created a safe zone around abortion clinics, saying it too limited free speech.

With other states now poised to ban abortions, Minnesota is expected to become an island in the Midwest for patients who want them. After winning Tuesday’s election, Democrats said they are determined to include abortion protection into state law in the next legislature.

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Minneapolis elected leaders have been seeking such action from the state since the summer. Mayor Jacob Frey in August signed an executive order limiting the ability of city employees to assist agencies that may attempt to prosecute abortion seekers.

Frey also included $300,000 for “abortion access” in his 2023 budget proposal, though the mayor said Wednesday that the city is still deciding how that money could be best spent.

Another way would be the safety of clinics, said Frey, adding that he supports the proposed law. The council will likely take a final vote on the measure Nov. 17.

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