In anticipation of its passage later today, the New York Civil Liberties Union applauded the City Council for legislation that will close perceived loopholes in current law and safeguard women’s access to reproductive health care clinics while protecting the protest rights of abortion opponents.

The legislation, introduced by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, strengthens the existing clinic access law, enacted in 1995, that criminalizes the blocking of clinic entrances.

“This bill strikes the appropriate balance between free speech and the right to access reproductive health care,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “It adds teeth to city law by making it more clear what is prohibited and who may bring a complaint, which will allow local law enforcement to better safeguard women’s rights to access critical services and better protect doctors and clinic staff from violent or threatening behavior.”

The bill strengthens the existing law in the following ways:

  • Makes it a crime to knowingly block or obstruct a clinic entrance. Currently, the law requires proof that a person blocking an entrance intends to prevent someone from obtaining or rendering reproductive health serves.
  • Extends the protection to driveways and parking lots.
  • Makes clear that the law prohibits not just physical contact but also obstruction of entrances.
  • Makes it clearer that clinics themselves and their staff can file complaints.
  • Does not disturb existing protections for peaceful protest.

“The First Amendment absolutely protects the right of abortion opponents to peacefully express their views,” Lieberman said. “But the city also has an obligation to protect women seeking reproductive health care and the doctors and staff who provide that care against protesters who cross the line. We commend the City Council for passing this sensible legislation, and we look forward to the NYPD ensuring the law is fully enforced.”