Walnut Creek city council votes for ordinance restricting protests outside Planned Parenthood

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KRON) – People protesting outside Planned Parenthood in Walnut Creek could get banned from using sound amplifiers.

The Walnut Creek City Council unanimously passed the restriction Tuesday night. There is already a buffer zone that the council passed two years ago to put space between protestors and people seeking services at Planned Parenthood.

Now, the city council has voted to restrict megaphone and bullhorn use within 100 feet of the entrance of Planned Parenthood.

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The decision received mixed reactions. While some people support the ban, saying patients need to be protected, others argue this limits their First Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, assistant city attorney Ali Wolf gave a presentation about why a noise restriction is so needed. Wolf cited a letter sent to the city by Planned Parenthood.

“Between April 22 and April 23, they documented 138 incidents with protestors at the Planned Parenthood facility in which megaphones were used 42 times in that date range. Megaphone was mentioned eight times in the date range,” she said.

Many Planned Parenthood volunteers spoke at the meeting explaining how the noise affects patients seeking care on a daily basis.

“The amplified sound is attacking the patients coming in,” said Planned Parenthood volunteer Sandy Fink. “The clients that have come in, it allows them to call them murderers. It allows them to target people that are inherently fragile at a time that is very difficult for them… It’s so loud I could hear it inside the health center with the door closed. That should not be allowed to continue to happen.”

Walnut Creek’s police chief says the department has recently increased patrols around the clinic after an increase of complaints.

“We’ve received some substantial complaints over the last few years of protestors where people felt uncomfortable,” said police chief Jamie Knox. “We had a few assaults out there — isolated incidents. So we thought we would bring the temperature down out there.”

Sophia Martin with Love Life – a sidewalk outreach ministry group – says they use sound amplifiers because the buffer zone makes it hard to connect with patients and offer their resources.

“They have clinic escorts that as soon as the moms get there, they are in their ear,” she said. “They are trying to interfere with our First Amendment rights and reaching out to the moms to offer the help and hope that we can provide through Jesus and the local church.”

A mom named Lili attended the meeting to advocate for Love Life.

“If it wasn’t for meeting the sidewalk counselors that day I probably wouldn’t have chose life for my baby. I just want to say how grateful I am for Love Life,” she said.

But Wolf says this ordinance would help protect the health of patients inside the clinic, as the loud megaphones can cause negative effects.

“Noise exposure in medical settings can exacerbate patient health issues and has been linked to increased levels of stress, anxiety, increased heart rate and higher blood pressure,” said Wolf.

The city council will have a second reading for this ordinance at the next meeting on April 16. If it gets the final approval, the sound amplifier restriction will go into effect 30 days later.

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