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  • Giselle Hale

Redwood City wants county supervisors to set up protest buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood

The Planned Parenthood clinic has seen increasing anti-abortion protests in recent years, raising concerns about patient safety.

May 3, 2022, The Mercury News

The Redwood City Council is urging San Mateo County supervisors to set up a buffer zone around a mid-Peninsula Planned Parenthood to keep anti-abortion protesters from getting too close to patients seeking to end their pregnancies.

In a unanimous vote April 25, council members agreed to send a letter to the county Board of Supervisors asking them to put in a buffer zone around the Mar Monte Planned Parenthood on El Camino Real, which is technically just one block outside the city limits.

Mayor Giselle Hale, who referred the buffer zone issue to the full council, said in an interview that the Redwood City Planned Parenthood location should be among the handful of Bay Area clinics with protest buffers, including reproductive healthcare facilities in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Walnut Creek.

Hale said there are “increased concerns” about protests outside abortion clinics on the Peninsula as California seeks to become a sanctuary state for those seeking to safely and legally end their pregnancies, an issue that came into sharp focus Tuesday after a bombshell report from a news organization that the Supreme Court could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that makes it legal to terminate a pregnancy.

Hale said the buffer will help protect patients and healthcare workers from harassment at the Redwood City Planned Parenthood, which has seen an increase in protest activity over the past several years.

“It’s so visible you don’t need any metrics to know, and talking with Planned Parenthood advocates they are seeing increased concerns from staff,” Hale said. “This is really about preparedness to make sure our residents here and those wanting to get a safe and legal abortion across state lines are able to get the care they are seeking.”

Gilda Gonzales, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood of Northern California, said its health centers in Napa, Walnut Creek and San Francisco get out-of-town protesters frequently, and at each of those locations, Planned Parenthood has worked with city officials to install buffer zones to protect patients.

“While each buffer zone is different based on the needs of the individual sites, all of our buffer zones are designed to give our patients space from anti-reproductive rights protestors,” Gonzales said. “Protestor activities vary, from pushing scientifically inaccurate reading material, to shouting profanity-laced tirades through megaphones, to physically stopping cars from being able to access our parking lots.

She said protesters “aim to keep our patients from seeking health care, full stop.”

Hale said she is frustrated the Redwood City clinic — which is part of the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood affiliate — falls just outside the council’s jurisdiction but will nevertheless pressure supervisors to set up a buffer.

Hale said the city looked to Walnut Creek and San Francisco to gauge the effectiveness of buffer zones and recommended that supervisors take a look at examples of this policy in the region.

The council must still approve the final draft of the letter before sending to the board of supervisors.

Supervisor Warren Slocum — who represents the district where the Redwood City Planned Parenthood is — said in an interview he’s taking a “wait-and-see” approach before setting up any hard barriers between protesters, patients and healthcare providers.

“Having not seen the letter, I don’t know, we’ll just have to wait and see,” Slocum said. “I would be concerned about free speech rights. I’ve seen those protesters, but I’ve never seen them at the entrance, always on the sidewalk. I’m sure our county counsel will weigh in on the first amendment business. Other than that, theoretically, I don’t have a problem with the buffer zone. But the devil is in the details.”

Slocum said he wants the board to look at other jurisdictions that have set up buffers. Walnut Creek council members, who were the latest in the Bay Area to set up a buffer for its Planned Parenthood clinic, voted to establish an eight-foot buffer within 100 feet of the Oakland Boulevard clinic, where crowds occasionally descend on the narrow sidewalk in front to protest.

Abortion protests are common sights at Planned Parenthood clinics in the Bay Area, and volunteers at the Walnut Creek site have accused demonstrators of loudly harassing and singling out patients.

Slocum added that he could bring the item forward to the board, but noted that the president of the board could do it too, as well as the county manager and other supervisors.

But Supervisor David Canepa — who represents the north part of the county — said he “might just have to do it for him.” In an interview, he said he supports the buffer zone and doesn’t think the board should necessarily have to wait to see the Redwood City letter and recommendation.

“There should be a buffer zone and that’s the right thing to do,” Canepa said. “It’s a woman’s right to choose and no woman should be living in fear during such an intimately personal decision. I don’t think people should be shouting other people down. It makes sense and we need to protect the woman’s right to choose and to her privacy.”


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