White Plains, NY – The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) approved landmark legislation tonight that will guarantee anyone who seeks to enter a reproductive health clinic in Westchester shall be able to safely access the entrance even from the end of a long driveway or the nearby parking lot.
The Reproductive Health Care Facilities Access, which passed on 10-7 vote that was supported by the BOL’s Democratic caucus, essentially “suburbanizes” New York City’s Clinic Access Law and fills the gap between federal legislation and state legislation that is already in place. The bill also guarantees that clinic personnel can summon the police and file a complaint on behalf of patients being physically intimidated and having trouble getting through a crowd or demonstration.
“The Board of Legislators worked on the safe clinic access legislation for two years, and numerous changes were made to the bill after two public hearings and in-depth discussions at the committee table with dozens of health care officials, advocates from both sides of the issue and First Amendment experts,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), one of the co-authors of the bill. “I urge County Executive Astorino to sign this important bill to ensure the public safety of Westchester residents who seek to obtain health care.”
In the newly approved bill, “intent” to deny access need not be proven, closing a crucial legal loophole. Moreover, residents visiting reproductive healthcare facilities and clinics will be given 25 feet of “buffer” space in which to walk unimpeded.
“The boundaries of lawful First Amendment expression of free speech are crossed with physical harassment and intimidation, threatening language, berating and taunts,” said Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont). “My colleagues on the Board and I believe that current law does not go far enough to protect those wanting health care service at reproductive health care facilities or those working at these facilities. This legislation will ensure public safety, protect freedoms, advance medical privacy and safeguard public property.”
Problems arise when individuals and groups exceed the boundaries of lawful First Amendment expression by engaging in activities that physically prevent or otherwise unlawfully intimidate people from entering facilities that provide reproductive health care services. The BOL found that current law does not protect those who work in or seek services from these public health facilities, and so legislation was drafted to prohibit interference with access to the facilities.
“This is the best clinic access legislation in the country, in my opinion,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “The bill balances public safety and freedom of speech while providing the people of this county protection they deserve. Best of all, this bill gives people back a good measure of their privacy in a situation where it should be expected.”