Letters to the Portland Phoenix editors, March 8, 2013
As an employee in downtown Portland as well as a resident, I've been exposed to a climate of escalating hostility surrounding the entrance to the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England offices. An increasing presence of vocal and aggressive protestors has created palpable tension for patients and pedestrians alike. While the protestors absolutely have the right to free speech, these rights are not inclusive of targeted intimidation tactics that infringe upon other constitutionally protected rights, such as access to health-care services. This issue has been apparent for months, and is not being treated like the time-sensitive issue that it is. We have met have met with city councilors and have been in contact with the mayor and they do not seem to understand how pressing the implementation of a patient safety zone is.
As of recent months, I have been working with Planned Parenthood and a team of volunteers to enact a "patient safety buffer zone," which would ensure that all protest activity would occur 35 feet from the building. In my work gathering petition signatures and canvassing for this measure, I've noted an overwhelmingly positive response and heard the stories of many Portland residents affected by the protestor tactics. One visibly pregnant woman (who had no intention of entering the building) relayed her experience of being obstructed by a protestor holding a sign depicting graphic fetal remains. These signs, which are intended to frighten and shame women entering the health center for services, have the effect of causing discomfort to everyone who passes them.
The protestors have transformed a sidewalk into a harrowing gauntlet. Merely walking to my workplace requires passing through it. Increased police presence has provided no solace. The protestors are still highly vocal. I find myself forced to quicken my pace while walking the stretch of sidewalk they've claimed as their own. I can only imagine how much more painful and frightening their tactics would be if I were a patient.
People are being harassed and intimidated on public sidewalks every Friday and Saturday and it is unacceptable. "Wait and see" just won't cut it.
, Phoenix, Portland, health