Buffer Zones

Buffer zone laws limit how close demonstrators are allowed to be from a facility by requiring that protests occur at a specific distance from a facility. They are a proven way to balance the importance of safe access to reproductive health care facilities with the free speech rights of anti-choice individuals to distribute literature or engage in conversations with consenting parties.

Bubble zone laws create floating areas around particular people (usually clinic staff and patients) or vehicles–and prohibit protesters from coming within a certain distance of the specified person or vehicle. Bubble zones are sometimes referred to as floating buffer zones.

screenshot 1 Buffer zones can be passed by cities, towns, or states. NAF has compiled a comprehensive list of buffer zones, ordinances, injunctions, and other legal remedies that providers and advocates have attempted across the U.S. and Canada broken down by state in our publication Legal Remedies to Address Clinic Violence and Harassment.

Not Counseling

Anti-abortion groups would like you to think that they are merely engaging in quiet ‘counseling’ outside of facilities that provide abortion care. But aggressive threats and intimidation, stalking patients from their cars to the door, and verbally and physically assaulting them is not counseling. According to a September 2013 survey of NAF members, 92% of responding facilities reported that they are concerned about the safety of their patients in the areas approaching the facility:

“Twice recently protesters pushed or shoved our patients. Several protesters have come into our clinic waiting room pretending to be patients. We have now had to hire armed security guards in order to feel safe,” said one NAF member in Michigan.

“We called the police because of safety concerns for a patient who telephoned us from her car in fear. Two staff members went to assist her and when the door was opened to let staff in, a protester jumped in too, yelling at the patient,” said one NAF member in Virginia.

In contrast, 75% of responding facilities with buffer zones stated that the zones improved patient and staff access to the facilities. As one NAF member in Massachusetts responded:

“It has been wonderful to have the protesters farther away from the clinic. It has cleared the path from the curb to the front door, made it free of obstruction and easier, safer and more comfortable for patients and staff. It has also cleared a path around the staff garage–making staff feel safer.”