Confrontational protests at Walnut Creek’s Planned Parenthood clinic prompts talk of buffer zones

Against the backdrop of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court and a Texas law that would all but ban abortion if upheld, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Walnut Creek has become the Bay Area’s ground zero in a renewed conflict between abortion supporters and opponents, as sidewalk protests intensify and women must navigate through the commotion to get inside.

The encounters have gotten so heated that the City Council is looking into establishing buffer zones to keep protesters 30 feet away from the clinic’s patients, a tactic similar to what the city of Napa recently did, but one which has raised legal questions in the past. San Jose established a buffer zone at all reproductive health centers in the late 1990s, although the minimum distance then was set at eight feet.

“There’s a strong correlation to this anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood emboldened attitude of protests that seems to be galvanizing across the country,” Gilda Gonzalez, Planned Parenthood’s regional president, said in linking the trend to the Texas law and former President Donald Trump’s appointment of three conservative Supreme Court justices.

Though protests are a regular sight in front of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, the demonstrations that crowd a narrow sidewalk in front of the Oakland Boulevard building in Walnut Creek, often blocking the driveway, have definitely heated up, witnesses say. The protesters say they are encouraging women to “choose life,” but that’s not how the clinic’s supporters see it.

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“The protesters use bullhorns to harangue and read scripture to everyone present,” Ogie Strogatz, a Planned Parenthood volunteer who escorts women into the clinic, told the City Council earlier this week. “This is harassment, it’s an abuse of a most precious (First Amendment) right.”

Gonzalez said the clinic stands out among a cluster of others in Northern California for how intense the protests have become, in contrast to generally peaceful vigils elsewhere.

WALNUT CREEK, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 8: A group of anti-abortion protesters obstructs a bus stop on a public sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Walnut Creek, Calif., as they form a prayer circle to recite the Rosary on Friday, October 8, 2021. The protesters show up on Tuesdays and Fridays because those are the days patients are scheduled to receive abortion services. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group) 

Last year, violence erupted when a couple of private security guards hired by the demonstrators pepper-sprayed counter-protesters. The two guards were arraigned Thursday at the Contra Costa County courthouse in Martinez on charges of battery and possession of tear gas. They’re expected to face separate trials in February.

Earlier this year, the Napa City Council established a 30-foot buffer zone at the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic and prohibited people from using amplified sound, shouting, obstructing passage or following visitors against their will near the building’s entrance, according to the Napa Valley Register.

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It’s not clear how the courts might view that approach. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a 35-foot buffer zone that Massachusetts had …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

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