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Burlington suspends enforcement of protest buffer zone - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington suspends enforcement of protest buffer zone

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - On the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that voided a buffer zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics, the city of Burlington is suspending enforcement of a similar ordinance.

In the Massachusetts case, the justices said keeping protesters away from clinic entrances violates their First Amendment rights.

Burlington has a similar buffer zone ordinance meant to keep anti-abortion protesters from harassing clients and staff outside Planned Parenthood on St. Paul Street.

Wednesday, Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said the ruling impacts a section of the Burlington ordinance that prohibits people from congregating or demonstrating within the buffer zone, so protesting will be allowed. But protesters will not be allowed to block people from entering or exiting the facility.

Blackwood says she will ask the City Council to amend the ordinance at their July 14 meeting.

Full statement from City Attorney Eileen Blackwood:

"Last Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the McCullen v. Coakley case dealing with a Massachusetts buffer zone law. That opinion impacts one of two sections of Burlington's buffer zone ordinance approved by the City Council in 2012. In response to the Supreme Court decision, the Burlington Police Department has suspended enforcement of Burlington Code of Ordinances Section 21-113(2), which prohibits a person from knowingly congregating, patrolling, picketing or demonstrating within a 35-foot area surrounding the premises of a reproductive health care facility, known as the buffer zone. Section 21-113(1), which prohibits a person from knowingly obstructing, detaining, hindering, impeding, or blocking a person's entry to or exit from such a facility, was not addressed by the Supreme Court and will remain in place and continue to be enforced.

At the July 14, 2014 City Council meeting, I will ask the City Council to amend the ordinance to reflect these changes and to refer the ordinance to the City Council's Ordinance Committee for consideration of any other amendments that may be reasonable and consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion.

To be clear, between now and City Council action on July 14, 2014, no enforcement action will be taken against any individuals for demonstrating, congregating, picketing, or patrolling within the 35-foot buffer zone, as long as they do not obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block another person's entry to or exit from a reproductive health care facility."

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