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Opinion: Respect personal space outside Planned Parenthood clinic

The president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards, participates in a panel discussion in New York on September 20, 2016. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Let’s start with a simple idea: Everyone is entitled to respect, especially when we disagree. It’s a concept that touches the bedrock of our freedom.

We represent, or have represented, a vital community asset now within the 2nd Ward — the Planned Parenthood Clinic located at the corner of Division and LaSalle. Since 1999, thousands of Chicago women and men have gone to the clinic for birth control, HIV testing, pregnancy testing, STD testing and treatment, vaccines and for abortion services.


Facilities like this had been targeted by protests nationwide which, all too often, had spiraled into ugly violence. Thus in 2009 Chicago passed the Health Care Bubble Zone Ordinance to reduce harassment and physical assaults on patients and staff. Today, anti-choice groups are suing the City of Chicago for a second time to overturn the Bubble Zone.

The ordinance requires an eight-foot area or “bubble” around patients and staff to ensure safe access to and from all health care facilities. This is part of our city code that covers disorderly conduct protecting schools, businesses and places of worship. Our law, like others like it passed around the country, has been upheld locally and by the U.S. Supreme Court.

To be clear, the “bubble zone” has not eliminated all health center violence. Over the past year a number of Planned Parenthood facilities were targeted nationally and the Planned Parenthood in suburban Aurora was the target of an arson attempt. But the “bubble” zone has allowed patients and staff free movement without fearing for their personal safety. At the same time, lawful protest can, and does occur, at a respectful distance less than 10 feet away.

At 1200 N. LaSalle, sidewalks are 12 feet wide, leaving ample space for the exercise of free speech rights while allowing patients safe access to the facilities, keeping entrances clear, preventing traffic problems, maintaining distance between individuals, minimizing physical contact and reducing opportunities for harassment and intimidation.

We are proud to support the bubble zone ordinance. It guarantees citizens safe access to legal healthcare and, at the same time, it protects the right to free speech of those who oppose some medical procedures. That’s a law we should all respect.

Michele Smith is alderman of the 43rd Ward. Brian Hopkins is alderman of the 2nd Ward.

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