Planned Parenthood Protestors Are Likely Breaking the Law

Bernalwood brings you this legal analysis from our  Pregnant Reporter, Jennifer Phillips

A few days ago, MissionLoc@l ran a story about the anti-abortion protesters in front of the new Planned Parenthood clinic on Valencia Street. I live just a few blocks from the clinic, and I’m annoyed at the protesters’ presence in my neighborhood. But the protesters’ time on the sidewalk may be limited: There’s a law on the SF books that says they may be liable for 3 months in jail or a $500 fine for being too close to the clinic.

San Francisco municipal code, Article 43, Section 4302 states that health clinics must have a “buffer zone” around them. Specifically, protesters must not be located within “an 8-foot radius extending in all directions from the individual seeking access to, passage from, or services within the healthcare facility.”

But as you can see by this video and these pictures, the sidewalk in front of the clinic is only about 9 feet at its widest. Since the protesters are on the sidewalk, and because the buffer zone extends in all directions from a person or their outstretched arm, there’s no way they’re 8 feet away from clinic patients.

The penalties for violating San Francisco’s buffer zone law is $500 fine or 3 months jail for the first offense, and $1000 fine or 6 months in jail for subsequent offenses. In addition, if someone did choose to sue the protesters under the law, the protesters would be liable for the plaintiff’s legal charges, $1000, and possibly punitive damages. The protesters seem very confident they know the Lord’s law, but in the meantime they’re in violation of man’s law.

Adrienne Verrilli, Director of Communications and Marketing for the local Planned Parenthood, says the clinic is very aware of the law, but “we really just don’t have a way to have eyes and ears on the street to see if it’s being enforced. And if there are more peaceful ways to deal with this, we want to find those ways.”

She says the clinic’s 15-some staff members have been so busy providing services like family planning and STD tests that it just hasn’t become a priority yet. She said staff is still growing, but if it comes down to “taking care of the client or dealing with crazy people, we choose the clients.”

Verrilli believes that it would be necessary to prove that the protesters had been consistently violating Article 43, Section 4302 in order to have a solid case against them. However, the clinic will have an escort program up and running in 2 months that could allow for more rigorous observation. Verrilli expects that the clinic will be ready to enforce the buffer zone “next year… unless we’re able to get a buffer zone through the Board of Supervisors before then.”

On a more personal note, as a local resident and currently cranky pregnant lady, I asked Verrilli if it would do any good to give in to my impulse to give the protesters a piece of my mind next time I pass. Don’t bother, she said. “It is not worth anyone’s breath to engage with the protesters. Facts are not something they are interested in hearing.” So while debate might not change much on the street, there is a legal way to battle the protesters. And whether they believe in the law or not, the protestors are subject to it.

IMAGE: Screen grab from peephole’s video

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9 Responses to Planned Parenthood Protestors Are Likely Breaking the Law

  1. Heather says:

    When I ran by on a recent rainy day, there were two of them taking shelter under the awning, plus another four on the sidewalk such that I had to run through a tunnel no less than a foot or two from each, which feels physically imposing. And, the two under the awning were, quite literally (though perhaps subconsciously), blocking the door. I am sure there is no way this is legal. I kept my eyes out the next couple blocks for a cop, but was wondering if there is perhaps a value in calling 311 next time I see something like this, just so that it’s on record. I’ll do some digging and see what I can come up with. Certainly, people have a right to protest whatever they’d like, but the logistics of this particular PP make it such that keeping an open area for both the clients and people just trying to pass on the sidewalk requires that they be across the street, or down the street, or somewhere else but five feet away.

    It was sweet to see middle aged, well-off white dudes take such an interest in my paps and mams, though. (The day I ran by, it looked like a bus brought ‘em out from a Masters Golf Classic in Half Moon Bay to hold signs.)

  2. Alison says:

    When I used to escort at the old clinic on Eddy, the protesters were always across the street, which was nice. But during their crazy 40 days for Life stunts, they would be on our side. The frustrating thing with the buffer zone at that location was that the front door was recessed inside a vestibule area, and there was always uncertainty about whether the eight feet was from the door or from the front edge of the vestibule. (It wasn’t an enclosed area, but it was covered by the upper floor.) The protesters stayed at the edge of the sidewalk or on the street between their parked cars, but sometimes they would come closer when nagging at people coming in and out of the clinic.

    But the people in this post certainly seem to be in violation and hopefully that can be dealt with. It shouldn’t matter how often it happens or whatnot, breaking the law is breaking the law. A-holes.

  3. johnny0 says:

    Would sit/lie apply if they were in their comfy lawn chairs?

    They also leave their cars in the Burger King parking lot. Maybe BK could be alerted to this fact. This would force them to either fund DPW or raise their cholesterol by eating Whoppers all day long.

  4. Heather says:

    Sit/Lie is an interesting angle. Though certainly if the way it’s been enforced through the rest of the City is any indication…

  5. Resident says:

    Oh thank Jeebus. I read that MissionLoc@l story and mentioned there (as I’m mentioning now) that I live in that building across the street that you can see in the photo. I’m ridiculously happy that there seems to be a legal way to get these protesters out of there. Thankfully, they haven’t been seen for a few days. Let’s hope it stays that way.

  6. Peephole says:

    With the crackpot Hitler-Obama people on Cortland the other day, the police eventually asked them to leave for sidewalk blocking. (Actually, they asked them to remove their table/ironing board.) Calling the police for that seems very reasonable.

    I have a bunch of other video from other days with the same guy in the link above.

  7. Jennifer Phillips says:

    Thanks for the comments and response, everyone. I hear that the 40 Days for Life folks will be back in fall. But until then, hopefully we’ll have some peace in the neighborhood. It’s so annoying to see them every time I’m craving a cookie from Anthony’s. Sit/Lie is an interesting angle, I should look into that. Wonder how well it’s being enforced city-wide.

    @Peephole, please hold on to that video! It might be good to establish that not only have these guys been violating the law, they’ve been doing it consistently over time. A record of 311 calls will probably be helpful too to prove they’re being a nuisance.

  8. whir says:

    I’m not crazy about these people either, and I vehemently disagree with their message, but frankly the idea of using the sit/lie ordinance to prevent people from peacefully expressing unpopular opinions seems like a terrible precedent to set.

  9. Pingback: Supreme Court Decision Amps Up Protestors at Valencia Planned Parenthood Clinic | Bernalwood

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