Abortion clinic buffer zone approved in Oakland temporarily on hold

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland City Council in Calif. approved the expanded 8-foot buffer zone, Dec. 18, around abortion clinics in an effort to block sidewalk counselors from having access to potential clients.

The new ordinance makes it unlawful, and punishable by up to one year in jail, to go within that distance of an abortion business unless heading there for an abortion.

It applies to protesters as well as sidewalk counselors who help women with alternatives.

City officials maintain the buffer zone is targeting aggressive pro-life protestors.

"Right now we do have some very aggressive protestors in Oakland," Amy Moy, with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, told a San Francisco TV station. "Their tactics include stalking people from their cars all the way to the front entrance. They also try to force misleading and false information into our patients' hands from a very close proximity, so this buffer ordinance will help eliminate or reduce some of those tactics that our patients find extremely intimidating."

Pro-lifers call the move an attempt to limit free speech.

The Life Legal Defense Foundation filed suit on behalf of pro-life advocate Walter B. Hoye II to keep the city from enforcing the law.

In a telephone conference, Dec. 20, before Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District, the City agreed not to enforce the ordinance. Judge Breyer advised the city on how to make the law conform with prior Supreme Court rulings.

City Attorney John Russo told the Alameda Times Star that the city will rework the law.

"What we're going to do is follow the judge's direction and go back to the council with an amended ordinance on Jan. 15," he said.

Until then, Oakland Police Department Chief Wayne Tucker wrote a letter to pro-life attorneys on Thursday saying it would not enforce the law until a new one is in place.

Attorney Cyrus Johnson, a free speech advocate, expressed concern in an interview with LifeNews.com about granting "the government power to say which message can be communicated and which message cannot."

He noted that there is no documented justification for the proposal.

There are "zero police reports, zero records of injunctions filed, zero records of lawsuits filed and, frankly, no evidence beyond conjecture to support the notion that there is a problem at the clinics," said Johnson.