Florida Democratic leader wants to make protesting near abortion clinics illegal

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Florida’s Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book filed legislation seeking to make protesting within a certain distance of health care facilities, including abortion clinics, illegal.

Book filed SB 254, which would make it “unlawful for a person to picket or protest inside of or within 150 feet of a health care facility with the intent to harass or disturb an individual in or about such facility or to disturb or disrupt the operations of the facility.”

“A person who violates this section commits a misdemeanor of the second degree,” the bill added. A second-degree misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail, according to the Florida Standard.

The bill seeks to define the term “health care facility,” but under its current definition, the state of Florida already recognizes abortion clinics as health care facilities.

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“Women deserve access to legitimate and trusted reproductive healthcare services, and the freedom to safely receive care without fear of misinformation, harassment, or harm,” Book said in a press release.

“It’s long past time for Florida to prioritize women’s health, protect the safety of doctors and patients, and ensure that public funds are directed toward accurate and accountable healthcare services,” she continued.

Book’s communication director Jossie Barroso spoke to the Florida Standard about potential First Amendment concerns in relation to the proposed law. The representative described a seemingly imaginary “free speech zone.”

“The free speech zone simply shifts the line back for the safety and privacy of doctors and patients,” Barroso explained. “The language is based on similar laws that regulate protesting and soliciting in places like homes and polling locations.”

The outlet noted that the spokesperson declined to answer questions regarding sidewalk counselors or street preachers.

At the same time, Book promoted SB 256, which looks to regulate crisis pregnancy centers, which she called “fake clinics,” by requiring them to be licensed and undergo inspections.

“Our state claims to be a beacon of freedom, but abortion bans, healthcare restrictions, and the funneling $25 million annually into fake clinics that peddle anti-abortion propaganda infringe upon those principles,” Book claimed. “Until women are free to make their own choices about reproductive health, our state is not truly free.”

The press release went on to say that the centers “masquerade as medical facilities” while they “pressure women toward parenting or adoption while actively discouraging contraceptive use.” The same statements claimed that the centers spread “disinformation about abortion, including the disgusting and unverified claim that abortion causes cancer.”

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