A.G. Schneiderman Issues Open Letter Noting That All New York Laws Protecting Access To Reproductive Health Facilities Remain In Effect

Notice Clarifies That New York’s Clinic Protection Laws Remain Intact After Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Schneiderman: I Am Committed to Protecting the Right of Every New Yorker to Full and Safe Access to Reproductive Health Care Services

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued an open letter to law enforcement agencies around the state clarifying New York’s clinic protection laws and regulations in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month that struck down a buffer zone law in the Massachusetts.  While activists in some communities have sought to use the ruling to create confusion about which legal protections remain in place in New York, Attorney General Schneiderman noted that the ruling has no impact on buffer zone requirements already covering 22 counties in New York State. 

“I am committed to protecting the right of every patient in New York to full and safe access to reproductive health care services,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will not allow activists to use a narrowly targeted Supreme Court decision as an opportunity to create confusion about the critical protections here in New York.  Not only do New York State’s clinic protection laws remain completely in place, I am committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to ensure they are fully enforced.”

After receiving reports of protestors allegedly disregarding buffer zones provided for under state law, the Office of the Attorney General sent a formal notice to law enforcement agencies detailing New York’s existing clinic protection laws and regulations.

New York City law establishes a 15 foot buffer zone in front of clinics to prevent harassment and intimidation.  In addition, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York granted a permanent injunction in 2005  requiring a group of 63 individuals and organizations to maintain a 15 foot buffer zone at reproductive health care facilities in the 17 counties in western New York.

Last month, in its decision in McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court struck down a specific 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts.  But the Court also affirmed that states may protect their strong interest in ensuring that citizens have full and safe access to reproductive health services.

In at least one case in Western New York, protestors wrongfully asserted that McCullen v. Coakley allowed protesters to disregard all buffer zone requirements.  In response, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office issued an open letter clarifying that existing protections remain in place.  

In addition to today’s letter, Attorney General Schneiderman has dispatched investigators to ensure safe and lawful access to reproductive health clinics.

Those who are aware of violations of the state’s clinic protection laws are encouraged to contact local law enforcement agencies and to contact the Civil Rights Bureau in Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office by calling (212) 416-8250 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of thirteen states and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the McCullen v. Coakley case. The brief argued that states require latitude to craft appropriate responses to the unique factual circumstances their citizens face, and that the Massachusetts law was a reasonable restriction on the time, place and manner of speech. In addition to New York, the states joining in the filing with the Supreme Court were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Memorandum

To:       Law Enforcement Agencies in New York State
From:   Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
Date:   July 10, 2014
Re:       Protecting Access to Women’s Health Services.

Last month the Supreme Court issued a ruling in McCullen v. Coakley striking down a Massachusetts state law intended to  protect access to women’s health services. In the wake of that decision, we have received reports of activist groups in parts of New York suggesting to service providers that the Supreme Court invalidated all buffer zones and other protections.  That is not true. 

I am committed to protecting the right of every patient in New York to full and safe access to reproductive health care services.  Not only do New York State’s clinic protection laws remain intact, I am committed to working with your offices to ensure they are fully enforced.

Enclosed please find a pamphlet prepared by my office that details the protections afforded under State law. If you have any questions or would like assistance, please contact my Civil Rights Bureau by calling (212) 416-8250 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov. (Read the pamphlet here.)

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