Chicago, IL — The Chicago City Council today voted in favor of an ordinance that will protect patients, staff and volunteers from harassment and intimidation when entering or exiting a medical facility.
The law is an expansion of the Disorderly Conduct Ordinance; the new section states:
A person commits disorderly conduct when (s)he knowingly either:
(1) approaches another person within eight feet of such person, unless such other person consents, for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way within a radius of 50 feet from any entrance door to a hospital, medical clinic or health care facility, or
(2) by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health care facility.
Each offense comes with a fine of not more than $500.
Alderman Vi Daley (D-43rd Ward) was the lead sponsor of the ordinance.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL) advocated on behalf of this ordinance because reproductive health care facilities are often the scene of demonstrations and disturbances that block patients and staff from entering clinics safely.
“Existing law did not adequately protect the public safety around health care facilities, and a ‘bubble zone’ enhances public safety in a fair and constitutional manner,” said Steve Trombley, President and CEO of PPIL.
“We have no issue with peaceful protests, praying or sidewalk counseling as long as it does not block the clinic entrance or in other ways interfere with patients or staff. The problem is overt, in-your-face tactics that Planned Parenthood’s patients and staff endure regularly.”
The first provision of the ordinance is similar in scope to a Colorado law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The second part reflects language in the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a law that was passed in 1994 and has also been upheld by each of the eight federal appeals courts.
While the local police have been responsive, there is only so much they can do without a local ordinance to enforce. FACE is limiting in scope and does not provide local law enforcement with the tools they need to help protect the public safety in front of health care facilities.
Since the May 31st assassination of Dr. George Tiller, an OB-GYN in Wichita, KS who provided abortions, PPIL has seen a significant surge in the number and aggressiveness of protestors in front of its clinics.
Protestors have taken to impersonating medical personnel, wearing white lab coats and stethoscopes, dispensing misinformation about the health care services offered by PPIL.
Protestors have also started wearing the same color vests as PPIL clinic escorts, with “Parenthood Volunteer” and an icon that looks extremely similar to PPIL’s logo. This tactic scares and confuses patients as they try to access the health care facility.
As patients and staff are entering and leaving the health care center, they are being yelled at, harassed and intimidated. “Protestors bring their young children and encourage them to shout things like, ‘I love being alive’ at our patients. To our staff, they shout such hateful vitriol such as, ‘You work for the devil.’ No one should have to endure this type of abuse,” said Trombley.
“A bubble zone of eight feet will help ensure that those giving and seeking health care can safely enter and leave medical facilities, keep entrances open, maintain distance between individuals, minimize physical contact and reduce harassment and intimidation.”