The Women’s Rights Committee of the New York County Lawyers’ Association Supports Passage of Int. No. 826 f the “Clinic Access Bill”)*
March 16, 2009
Hon. Christine Quinn
New York, New York 10007
Dear Speaker Quinn:
The ability to access reproductive health care safely and without fear of harassment and the threat of physical violence is a right of paramount importance. In New York City, individuals or groups of individuals have knowingly targeted those who seek access to reproductive health care facilities and have blocked their right of entry through the use of unlawful harassment and threats of violence.
Currently, New York City Administrative Code § 8-803 prohibits a person, with the intent to prevent another person from obtaining or rendering, or assisting with obtaining or rendering, any reproductive health care service or counseling, from: (1) physically obstructing or blocking another person from entering into or exiting the entryway or exit of a reproductive health care facility, or the premises in which the facility is located; (2) following and harassing another person in or about a public place, or engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts that place another person in reasonable fear of physical harm; or (3) physically damaging a reproductive health care facility so as to significantly disrupt, or attempt to disrupt, its operation. Any violation of this section is a misdemeanor and subjects the violator to a fine, imprisonment or both. However, any violation of this section is only punishable if intent can be proven.
Current law does not sufficiently protect those women who arc the targets of protestors’ fury, because the specific intent requirement is difficult to gauge. Because intent is exceedingly difficult to “see,” it is difficult for police to determine whether the law had in fact been broken. Thus, to effectively achieve its purpose, the current law needs to be amended so that all parties know what behavior is prohibited
NYCLA’s Women’s Rights Committee Position
On September 26, 2008, you, along with other members of the City Council, introduced the Clinic Access Bill. The Women’s Rights Committee (“WRC”) of the New York County Lawyers Association (“NYCLA”) unequivocally supports the Clinic Access Bill currently pending before the City Council, which strengthens protections for those who seek services, or work, at reproductive health care facilities.
The Clinic Access Bill
Section 1 of the bill sets forth the New York City Council’s legislative findings and intent.
Section 2 amends New York City Administrative Code § 8-801 by changing the law’s short title to “access to reproductive health care facilities act.”
Section 3 repeals New York City Administrative Code § 8-802(c) and inserts a new subdivision (c) that defines “premises of a reproductive health care facility” as “the driveway, entrance, entryway, or exit of a reproductive health care facility, the building in which such facility is located and any parking lot in which the facility has an ownership or leasehold interest.”
Section 4 amends New York City Administrative Code § 8-803(a) to state that it is unlawful to: (1) knowingly physically obstruct or block another person from entering into or exiting from the premises of a reproductive health care facility by physically striking, shoving, restraining, grabbing, or otherwise subjecting a person to unwanted physical contact; (2) knowingly obstruct or block the premises of a reproductive health care facility, so as to impede access to or from the facility; (3) follow and harass another person within fifteen feet of the premises of a reproductive health care facility; (4) engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts within fifteen feet of the premises of a reproductive health care facility when the behavior places another person in reasonable fear of physical harm; (S) physically damage, or attempt to damage, a reproductive health care facility so as to interfere with its operation; or (6) willfully interfere with the operation of a reproductive health care facility.
Sections 5 and 6 make technical amendments to the opening paragraph of New York City Administrative Code § 8-804 and the title of New York City Administrative Code § 8-805, respectively.
Section 7 states that this bill is effective ninety days after it is enacted into law.
Thus, this bill takes the current law a step further by eliminating the need to prove a person’s intent, and by expanding and identifying the types of acts that are unlawful. These amendments should make arrest and conviction of those who violate the law much easier and, as a result, will serve as a deterrent to those contemplating engaging in the aforementioned unlawful behavior.
Expands the Areas in Which a Person May Not Engage in Unlawful Behavior
This bill also repeals current Administrative Code § 8-802(c), which defines “reproductive health care facility” as “any building, structure or place, or any portion thereof, at which licensed, certified or otherwise legally authorized persons provide health care services or health care counseling relating to the human reproductive system,” and adds a new subdivision (c) that defines “premises of a reproductive health care facility.” Subdivision (c) defines this phrase as “the driveway, entrance, entryway, or exit of a reproductive health care facility, the building in which such facility is located and any parking lot in which the facility has an ownership or leasehold interest.” The WRC supports this definition change that expands the areas for proscribed behavior.
Gives Law Enforcement the Tools to Prevent and Hold Liable
Consistent with the New York City Council’s legislative findings and intent, the WRC believes that the current law does not adequately protect those who work in, or seek services from, reproductive health care facilities and, in fact, errs on the side of those who wish to prevent access to reproductive clinics. Currently, only a woman who is the target of the alleged harassment may file a complaint. However, under the proposed bill, a reproductive health care facility also has standing to file a harassment complaint against a person who willfully interferes with the operation of a health care facility.
Thus, the bill gives teeth to the current law to facilitate local law enforcement agencies’ ability to hold liable those who seek to harass or intimidate women seeking access to health care, and those who willfully interfere with the operation of a reproductive health care facility.
Preserves First Amendment Rights
As explained in section 1, this legislation specifically protects a person’s right to speak, march, demonstrate, picket, pray, associate with others in expressive behavior or engage in other activities protected by the First Amendment. The language of the bill establishes a bright line as to what activities are acceptable and allowed within the confines of the law.
Although the WRC has concerns that the penalties set forth in Administrative Code § 8- 803(b) may be insufficient to deter the unlawful conduct, (a re-examination of the existing penalties that are the same under the current law and proposed amendment may reveal that a tightening of such penalties will likely have a profound deterrent effect and thus, should be considered), the Clinic Access Bill is a measured response to the deficiencies of the current law. The WRC supports and urges its immediate adoption by the New York City Council.
Co-Chairs of the Women’s Rights Committee
New York County Lawyers’ Association
*The above report has been issued by the Women’s Rights Committee of NYCLA and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Association or its Board of Directors.