Since the fall of 2016, University of Toledo Clinical Law Professor, Robert Salem, has worked with the students of the Civil Advocacy Clinic to draft legislation that would propose a buffer zone around Toledo's only abortion access facility.
Salem said the law would create an eight-foot buffer zone, a design he felt wouldn’t limit freedom of speech.
“If you are the patient and you want them to come up to you and give you literature and talk to you personally and council you, as they put it, well that's your right,” Salem said. “But if you don’t want that, you have the right to be left alone.”
Similar ordinances that were used as a base to draft this legislation are in Columbus, Ohio, and New York City.
“We drafted this ordinance in a way that would withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Salem said. “So, that if it went to a court, most likely the court would rule that it is within the bounds of the Constitution.”
According to Salem, both places have had a high success rate in passing their legislation. Columbus enacted 14-foot buffer zones in June 2016, per NBC4I. The New York Post reported that NYC enacted an even larger buffer zone, requiring protesters to stay 35-feet back in the city.
“In fact, the Supreme Court of the United States actually singled out the New York City ordinance as a model way, balancing the competing interests of the two sides,” Salem said. “The Supreme Court said it’s a good way of ensuring the free speech rights of the protesters while ensuring the freedom that the patients have to access medical care.”
Salem said the idea was brought to him by Kristin Hady, the escort coordinator at Capital Care Network, the only abortion access facility in Toledo, who expressed a concern for patients entering the clinic.
“We know that there are protestors there every day the clinic is open, and they harass patients and they prevent patients from going in. They basically engage in psychological warfare.” Salem said.
Salem said that two students who were particularly interested in this project were Molly Ebraheim and Kaitlyn Filzer.
“They were very interested in taking on the matter, so that's how it got started,” Salem said.
Salem said that the need for this legislation comes from clinic patients getting verbally and physically harassed outside of the clinic, often preventing them from entering.
“By showing them pictures of what they claim are aborted fetus’, they call them murderers. they’ll say, ‘You're going to hell.’ So, let me be clear, that's their free speech rights, they can say awful things. What this ordinance does is simply requires them to stand back.” Salem said.
Salem said that after researching the issue, students reached out to Steve Steel, a Toledo City Councilman, who agreed to sponsor the legislation.
Since then, the legislation has been brought to a hearing before the city council, but Salem believes that the council won’t vote on the issue until after the election.
“At this point we don’t know what the chances of passage are; we think it's going to be close,” Salem said. “I am optimistic it will pass, but it's not a sure thing.”
According to the Toledo Blade, the group has already gotten some backlash regarding the legislation, including by Lori Viars, a board member of the Conservative Republican Leadership Committee in Ohio, who was against the bill because it threatens free speech.
Others opposed the law because they questioned its necessity, since it is already illegal to harass or physically attack someone outside of any health care facility. Salem said that the proposed legislation purposefully replicates laws already in place, to allow more than one charge to be brought against someone for one action.
“What this does is imposes enhanced penalties.” Salem said. “That’s how the law works, there are multiple offenses that may be implicated by one act.”
Controversial issues are commonplace for the Civil Advocacy Clinic, says Salem — they “embrace them.”
This includes just last year, when the group worked to pass a law banning conversion therapy in Toledo. The legislation was passed officially in January 2017. The student-oriented group is made up of only eight students each semester and works with individual cases, as well as drafting legislation.
They meet twice a week, along with “at least six hours a week of office time,” working on their projects, according Salem.
“I actually try to run a law firm within the law school,” Salem said. “It's’ about giving students the responsibility to do what they have to do as lawyers and as legislators.”
To see what the IC has to say about the legislations impact on the community go to our editorial at: