Staff ed: BB34 a step in the right direction for St. Louis

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee passed a bill that would establish a buffer zone of eight feet around the driveway and sidewalk of any healthcare facility Wednesday. This proposal, which includes Planned Parenthood locations, marks a clear step toward further protection of the rights of those who wish to use the facility in question, whether it be a hospital, urgent care clinic or women’s health facility.

The drafted bill specifically prohibits loitering on and “creating any obstruction” within the buffer around points of access to the facility, a tactic often used by protest groups outside of women’s health clinics. The law specifically allows access to those entering and exiting, law enforcement officials and first responders or just innocent passerby just using the sidewalk.

This precedent is of particular importance for Planned Parenthood facilities, which are regularly the location of often violent protests by pro-life demonstrators. In 2017, the Central West End Planned Parenthood facility made 73 calls to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, most of which were reports of blocked traffic (for those entering and exiting the facility) and for disturbing the peace. The amount has doubled since 2015, and enforcements under current regulations are often hard or impossible to implement.

Patients at medical facilities—hospitals or otherwise—already face obstacles to access, with anything from a lack of reliable transportation to the physical distance to locations that accept their form of payment or insurance. The added worry of congestion or harassment is something that should be prohibited by law; no one should be subjected to terrorizing tactics for merely seeking medical treatment.

Those against the bill, mostly pro-life organizations, claim that it violates their First Amendment right to free speech. Free speech is, of course, a good thing. Hate speech, on the other hand, is not. Shoving graphic pamphlets into the faces of those trying to access basic health services, is not. Blocking traffic by reaching into the cars of patients, is not. Falsely posing as a designated safety escort for patients, is not. The Student Life Editorial Board fully supports free speech as a concept, just, please, exercise this right a little farther away.

In the seemingly never-ending cycle of tragedy after tragedy in the news, it’s nice to hear something about good people making a good idea come to fruition every once in a while. This local, tangible change has the potential to positively affect the safety of all patients at medical centers in the St. Louis area, and it especially promotes the protection of those receiving services at Planned Parenthood facilities.

Brian Westbrook, the executive director of the Coalition for Life St. Louis, has pledged to call every alderperson to protest the bill’s passing. If you believe in the protection of women’s rights in St. Louis, call your representative or fill out the online form to counteract each of his attempts. Fight for the bill; make it known that it is important to you.

The measure will now continue on its 14-month-long journey to the full Board of Alderman for a vote next week. While you can voice your support by calling your representatives, you can also demonstrate it by directly helping the women it protects. Organizations on campus like WU Student Advocates for Reproductive Rights promote women’s health education by hosting events and advocating for the expansion of healthcare access through community service, while non-Washington University affiliated groups like Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri mobilize groups to address specific issues.

At the beginning of fall semester, we encouraged all Washington University students to remain engaged with the St. Louis community, regardless of the lack of an exciting presidential debate on campus. If that hasn’t happened yet, that’s OK: This can be your chance. Opportunities to make a visible, substantial difference in the lives of our fellow Missouri residents often seem hard to find or distant. Whether its donating money, calling or messaging a representative or lending a helping hand at local events, now is the time to do your part.