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New Colorado Law Gives Abortion Seekers ‘Bubble’ of Protection

April 21, 1993

DENVER (AP) _ Colorado enacted a unique law this week to provide a 8-foot ″bubble″ of protection for people entering or leaving abortion clinics.

The measure, signed Monday by Gov. Roy Romer, is the first state law of its kind in the nation. It bars demonstrators from coming within 8 feet of visitors or workers outside abortion clinics.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has already said it will challenge the law in court and is unlikely to change its protest tactics.

″The best way to challenge something like that is to break it,″ said spokeswoman Wendy Right. ″It shows utter contempt for the First Amendment″ right to free speech.

The battle over abortion shows no signs of abating.

In Florida, an abortion doctor was killed outside his clinic in Pensacola a month ago, and a judge barred protesters from coming within 36 feet of an abortion clinic in Melbourne. On Monday, the only clinic offering abortions in Missoula, Mont., was destroyed by fire.

Legislatures in 26 states considered pro-abortion laws this year in an effort to stem the violence, the National Abortion Rights Action League said. Bills that would protect patients and doctors entering clinics are pending in California, Florida, Nebraska, New Jersey and Virginia, Planned Parenthood said.

In Colorado, the bubble law won favor from 85 of the state’s 100 lawmakers despite impassioned testimony in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Anti-abortionists claimed abortion rights forces are the aggressive, sometimes violent ones.

″We like to have eye-to-eye contact with the gals who enter,″ said June Harrison, a leader of Operation Rescue in Denver, in testifying against the bill. She said members of her group usually only pray and sing in protest.

But people who escort patients into abortion clinics in Denver told House and Senate committees they had been pinched, punched and even bitten as they moved sobbing women through a gantlet of screaming anti-abortion protesters.

Volunteer escorts said protesters hold up placards of aborted fetuses and say: ″This is what your baby looks like.″

″People come right into my face trying to get me to push them away,″ said volunteer escort Virginia Kelly, 65. ″I tell them to back off 8 feet and they say we don’t have to. They almost have to have someone willing to file charges.″

The measure’s author, Democratic state Rep. Diana DeGette, said the law balances the rights of free speech and the rights of women entering abortion clinics.

Some say the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting women who seek abortions.

Dr. Warren Hern, whose Boulder clinic has been shot at, says that because of the killing in Florida, the protective bubble ought to be ″the distance bullets can travel.″

Since opening his clinic in 1975, Hern says he’s encountered an escalating barrage of death threats, bomb threats and vandalism. He says an anti-abortion leader is praying for his death. In 1988, someone fired five shots through the front of his clinic, he said.

″That’s the way it’s been for doctors all over the country,″ Hern said. ″This is not a peaceful movement.″

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