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Portland Considers Buffer Zone as Abortion Protests Continue
01/04/2013   Reported By: Samantha Fields

Friday is protest day outside Planned Parenthood in Portland. Every week for months, a group of anti-abortion activists has been showing up outside the Congress Street clinic, with signs and graphic images and Bibles, singing and shouting at those coming and going from the building. Today, a nearby business owner organized nearly 80 counter protesters. And as Samantha Fields reports, the ongoing strife has the city of Portland looking into creating a buffer zone around the building.

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Portland Considers Buffer Zone as Abortion Protest Listen
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Most Fridays outside Planned Parenthood sound something like this: (Sound of protesters singing).

But this morning, the usual anti-abortion protestors were outnumbered by a pro-choice crowd.

"My sign says, 'I use Planned Parenthood, too,'" says Sam Mercer. Mercer is 23 and lives in Portland, but does not typically stand outside Planned Parenthood holding a sign. But he did this morning.

"Because I think that it's important to at least let Portland know that there are more of us who support Planned Parenthood than don't," he says. "And to remind Planned Parenthood of that as well - make sure that they don't feel unwelcome when every Friday there are people out front saying that they're wrong."

abortion 7Leslie Sneddon (right, in purple hat) is one of the regular Friday protestors. She's the New England regional director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which opposes abortion. "We're out here to stop the murdering of innocents in the womb," she says.

Sneddon says she, herself, has had four abortions -- now, she wants to be sure women are informed before they make such a decision.

"I can say all I want about who is in the womb. But if I can show you a graphic picture of a pre-born child, and what an aborted child looks like, that's going to make an impact with you," she says.

Counter protestors say they aren't objecting to the display of graphic images. But many feel the anti-abortion demonstrators have crossed the line.

"They yell at people, they intimidate people. Although you can't see it today because there's cameras, they actually close in on people when they enter the building," says Bre Kidman, who works at a call center in the building. She also volunteers as a greeter for Planned Parenthood on Fridays, helping shield patients and usher them past protestors - something she started doing after experiencing the weekly protests, which she says she can hear even from her seventh-floor office.

"It was really hard for me to come to work on Fridays," she says. "It was really difficult to get through this gauntlet of people. And I really wanted to do something about it."

abortion 11So did Mike Fink (with ponytail, left, back to camera) who owns Guitar Grave and Mike's Restaurant just down the block from Planned Parenthood. He's been dreading coming to work on Fridays so much that he decided to start a counter protest. The first week, it was just him. The second, he had one other person join him.

This time, one of his employees posted about it on Facebook. Word spread, and around a hundred people showed up to support Planned Parenthood.

"It's been the best Friday I've had for months and months," Fink says. "I tried to ignore them for months, but I just can't continue ignoring them. So I'm trying to do a peaceful, productive protest, to stop them from harassing and intimidating people on Congress Street in front of my store."

Mike's Restaurant gave out free coffee and breakfast sandwiches to pro-choice demonstrators this morning. Fink has also started raising money for Planned Parenthood - including all the tips from this morning, which he delivered in a brown paper bag.

It's something he never, in a million years, thought he'd do. His hope is that the city will create a buffer zone around Planned Parenthood, so that protestors can't phyiscially cross a certain line. It's something the owners of the building Planned Parenthood is in are talking to city officials about now. City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg says officials are looking into what their legal options might be.

"Certainly this is an issue that has a number of factors that need to be considered," she says. "We want to make sure that we are protecting and ensuring that First Amendment rights are respected, that people have the right to protest on public property. But we also want to make sure that the men and women that are traveling that sidewalk, that are entering that building, are free from intimidation and are free to exercise their own civil rights."

Other cities and states, like Burlington, Vermont, and Massachusetts, have created buffer zones around Planned Parenthood and other reproductive clinics that have held up in court.

Leslie Sneddon, who leads the weekly protests on Congress Street, says that even if Portland does create a buffer zone, she and her fellow protestors will keep showing up every Friday, with much larger signs.

Photos by Samantha Fields.



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