Madison Buffer Zone Ordinance

Members of the Madison chapter of NOW appeared and registered votes in support of a proposed ordinance which would implement an 8 foot “floating” buffer zone within 160 feet of any health care facility in the city. This ordinance, proposed by Alderperson, Lisa Subeck, of the 1st district, protects persons entering or exiting any health care facility from harassment within 8 feet of their person.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to protect patient safety and privacy. While 8 feet is a relatively small distance, it is enough to ensure individuals entering a health clinic can move freely and provides freedom from the harassment that comes from another individual getting into one’s personal space”, she explains. “The proposed ordinance would not prevent anyone from protesting outside of health care facilities. Even within the 160 foot protective zone, individuals could still peacefully protest, as long as they do not approach (closer than the 8 foot buffer), without permission, an individual accessing the facility. ”

Madison NOW’s President, Wendi Kent, testified in support of the ordinance:

My name is Wendi Kent and I’m here representing the Madison chapter of the National Organization for Women and we support the proposed buffer zone ordinance.

Madison’s citizens pride ourselves on being leaders in setting standards that make our community safe, healthy, one of equal opportunity, and one that respects the rights of all of its citizens.

This ordinance is written with those values in mind. While protecting the citizens of the city it simultaneously enables them to exercise their rights.

Every human being deserves 8 feet of personal space but in the very least, we deserve to not have someone’s hands all over us and in our faces. The chances of someone who is entering or exiting a health care facility being in a fragile or vulnerable state is highly likely. What kind of city does not work to protect its most vulnerable citizens?

All too often, women entering health care facilities are harassed, yelled or spit at, grabbed or worse; the perpetrators often suggesting that, being small or old or female, they cannot possibly harass, assault, or even bother these potential patients. Their distribution of inaccurate medical information and faulty reproductive health care suggestions themselves can most certainly harm women. It is also common practice for these sidewalk preachers and harassers to treat every woman entering a facility that provides abortion care as if they are getting one.

A young girl attempting to take proper precautions to prevent unwanted pregnancy, in need of a simple yearly check up, or even receiving prenatal care, is subject to an array of attempts to shame and embarrass her. I have experienced this myself at the young age of 13 while receiving prenatal care for a pregnancy I chose to go through with. My situation only provoked more harassment. This even deterred me from continuing to receive prenatal care which was not fair to me or the child.

Health care facilities should be safe places. We go to them expecting a certain quality of care and protection. This should not end the moment we exit the building. We have rules regarding free speech when it is harmful to others. No one, no matter what side they are on, has the right to intimidate, harm, or assault a woman attempting to access health care. This ordinance assures these facilities remain safe places in which women can make their own decisions regarding their health, including the decision to take or not take a pamphlet, hand, or prayer.

Thank you for your time.

After testimony from 2 individuals in opposition of the ordinance and several other testimonies in support of including two people who serve on NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin’s board, the Buffer Zone ordinance passed the Public Safety Review Committee unanimously and must be voted in favor of two more times before final passage.

To learn more about buffer zone regulations and why these are necessary, check out some of these articles describing the situations some face when seeking health care.

On Buffer Zones and ‘Peaceful’ Clinic Protesters

AP, NYT Help Anti-Abortion Protesters Market A “New Face” That Downplays Threat Of Violence

Why Abortion Clinics Need Buffer Zones

To support in person:
If you’d like, you can also speak for up to three minutes on why this bill is so important for the safety and well-being of women in Madison.

Thursday, 2/13 at 5:30 pm – Board of Health (at Madison Water Utility, 119 East Olin Avenue, Conference Room A/B)

Tuesday, 2/25 at 6:30 pm – City Council (at City County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. – Room 201)

And from home:
email the City Council at and voice your support for this bill!


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