In Concord last week, a hearing was held in front of the State Senate Judiciary Committee regarding New Hampshire State Senate Bill 85, or the “Free Access Bill.” This bill was designed to ensure safe access for women to reproductive health services. It prevents anti-choice protesters from blocking access to clinics and creates a four-foot radius around people entering and leaving the clinic into which protesters may not enter.
Contrary to many of the statements made by those opposed to the right to choose, this bill is not about whether the right to abort is protected by the Constitution or not. This bill is about women’s safety, and the safety of those who provide women’s health care.
One of the main arguments made by the bill’s critics was that the bill infringes on their right to free speech. The bill’s sponsors in no way intended for free speech to be curtailed. Protesters are not prohibited from carrying signs, verbalizing their opinions, or handing out literature to those women who want to read it. Instead, the bill is designed to put a stop to the obnoxious, “in-your-face” tactics of anti-choice protesters.
Currently, as described by one Concord Feminist Health Center escort-volunteer, protesters harass everyone entering the building from the moment they leave their car to the moment they step onto the clinic’s property. What kind of message are these protesters attempting to convey that cannot be just as effective from four feet away?
With a protester on all four sides, sometimes with video cameras right in their faces, the women who come to the clinic are tormented, verbally abused and named as baby-killers. And what those protestors fail to acknowledge is that only a small percentage of women visit those clinics for abortion services. Women come to the clinic for all kinds of reasons: breast exams, pap tests and birth control information.
Dartmouth women should consider themselves lucky, because Dick’s House provides women’s health care. Other colleges are not so fortunate. Boston College, for example, does not provide annual gynecological exams for women. Those students are forced to go elsewhere, to places like the Brookline Planned Parenthood clinic, for example, places where ultra-reactionaries like John Salvi kill innocent people who provide and seek women’s health care. How many women avoid their annual exams because they are terrified of the threat of violence at their local Planned Parenthood and lack the economic resources to seek a physician in private practice?
The issue involved in Senate Bill 85 is the protection of women and the protection of those who want to ensure that they have access to safe health care. No matter what your stance on the abortion issue may be, it cannot be denied that all women have the right to safe health care.
Whether or not you believe that life begins at conception, you should support this bill. We must take a stand and support every woman’s right to health care in a protected and comfortable environment, and let it be known that we will not tolerate the harassment or the violence any longer. One of the only things more frightening than an unwanted pregnancy is the threat of physical harm in seeking help to deal with that pregnancy. I urge you to write State Senator Jim Rubens, The State House, Concord, NH 03301, and show your support for Senate Bill 85.