Abortion protesters may have to keep their distance and the noise down outside Walnut Creek’s Planned Parenthood clinic if an ordinance under consideration by the city council is formally approved two weeks from now.
If passed, the ordinance would require protestors to stay a set distance away from patients within a 100 feet of the clinic – a consideration raised after patients and clinic workers complained of aggressive, often intimidating tactics by anti-abortion protestors. Past confrontations have ended in shouting and shoving matches and even use of chemical agents by “security guards” dressed in police uniforms.
The ordinance appeared headed for approval by the council Tuesday night but, as it has elsewhere, support waned as members opted to get a better grasp of what constituted “noise,” an issue frequently left open to interpretation and muddied in this case by the clinic’s proximity to a noisy freeway.
Patterned after similar ordinances already in use in the Bay Area and other parts of the country where the issue of abortion rights has gotten heated and at-times violent, the distancing rule is meant to spare patients from intimidation tactics often used as they approach the clinic offices at 1357 Oakland Boulevard.
“What we’re doing with the ordinance is really not only ensuring the safety and security of everyone involved, but also guaranteeing the right to healthcare,” councilwoman Cindy Silva said.
But City Attorney Steve Mattas said more time is needed to study the noise element of the ordinance, saying the city needed to establish ambient noise levels before it could determine what was excessive.
“I think it would be better to have a specific noise regulation that is specifically tailored to a medical facility,” Mattas explained, adding that the ordinance wording needs to be as specific as possible in order to meet potential legal challenges.
Protesters present for Tuesday’s meeting said the nature of their work made it essential that they use amplified equipment in order to be heard over the adjacent freeway.
But Planned Parenthood regional president Gilda Gonzalez countered that notion.
“You think you’re doing something good for our patients — you’re not,” Gonzalez said. “You’re harassing them. You’re not educating them. They don’t feel cared about or comforted by you.”