Patients coming and going from health care centers in Madison will be shielded from protesters under a new ordinance — the first-of-its kind in Wisconsin — passed Tuesday by the City Council.
Introduced by Ald. Lisa Subeck, the former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the ordinance creates a roaming 8-foot buffer around patients who are within 160 feet of the doors of a medical facility.
“It applies to any health care facility in the city,” Subeck said. “But clearly the health care facilities where we have a problem are women’s reproductive health care clinics.”
Under the ordinance, protesters may still be within 160 feet of a clinic's entrance to hold signs, speak or distribute leaflets, assuming the patient agrees they can approach them with a leaflet.
They may not, however, approach an individual accessing the clinic any closer than 8 feet from the individual for the purpose of protest.
First-time offenders will be fined $300, second-time offenders $500 and third-time offenders will be fined $750.
Subeck said she modeled the ordinance after a Colorado law. That law was challenged and eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It balances free speech with privacy and safety for patients by providing them with the ability to access care free of harassment,” Subeck said.
Madison has one Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions on the east side of town. It is located directly across the street from a Women’s Care Center that is run by pro-life organizations and could soon be funded through the sale of 'Choose Life' license plates.
Vigil for Life, a Christian volunteer organization whose members pray, fast and peacefully witness for an end to abortion in Madison, according to its website, often have volunteers holding signs outside the Planned Parenthood clinic.
It opposes the ordinance. NARAL, the Madison Chapter of the National Organization for Women and other individuals spoke in favor of it.
A pro-life presence did have an impact when UW-Health was considering offering second-trimester abortions at its Madison Surgery Center on South Park Street in 2010. Health officials eventually opted against it.
“I’m pleased it was approved,” Subeck said. “This has been an issue for quite some time. I hope this will be a preventative measure and protesters will obey the law.”