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'A tinderbox ready to be ignited': Clearwater City Council examines rising tension outside abortion clinic

Clearwater City Council is set to workshop a city ordinance that would create a buffer zone between the clinic's driveway and where protesters can stand.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tension and harassment surrounding a Pinellas County women's health care clinic have volunteers concerned, calling the situation a "tinder box ready to be ignited". Now, Clearwater city leaders are taking action to help protect the clinic and its patients. 

Bread and Roses Woman's Health Center is familiar with protesters outside its clinic, they've been a constant for years. 

However, according to Amy Weintraub, the reproductive rights program director at Progress Florida, aggressive behavior and harassment have been on the rise outside abortion clinics statewide since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last summer.

"Now, it is outright harassment. It is outright intimidation," said Weintraub. "There's this new addition, this faction of hardcore extremists who are screaming at the top of their lungs and using intimidation, tactics, threats, anything they can think of."

Weintraub works hand in hand with clinics like Bread & Roses. 

"It is difficult to operate any type of health care service when there are people who are set on harassing the patients," said Weintraub. "It is upsetting and it just feels un-American."

In recent months, clinic volunteers have gone before Clearwater City Council demanding action. 

"The situation is a tinder box ready to be ignited," said Bread & Roses volunteer Jean Johnston on Jan. 5. "Patients who arrive at the clinic run the gauntlet. The extremists try to divert them in any way they can, short of physical assault."

According to the Clearwater Police Department, the clinic has been paying about $13,000 per year for off-duty officers to help keep the peace on Saturdays. 

"Bread & Roses has had to expend precious funds to hire off-duty police officers for on-site security. We as escorts feel this is absolutely necessary," said Johnston.   

Now, Clearwater City Council is acting on those concerns. On Monday, Feb. 27, the city council is set to workshop an ordinance that would limit how protesters can interact with patients and clinic workers. 

"We're coming up with an ordinance that is going to address some of the sound issues and also create a buffer zone," said Clearwater Councilmember Mark Bunker. 

If the ordinance passes, protesters will have to stay at least five feet from the driveway. 

"Giving them a buffer zone where there will be a clearly marked line that the protesters have to stay behind will make it easier for the police when they're called to the scene," said Bunker. 

Bunker says the city council will be careful not to limit anyone's right to protest. 

"No one's trying to take that away from them. We're just trying to add a little more safety," said Bunker. 

Following the workshop, Clearwater City Council is set to put the ordinance to a vote on Thursday, March 2.


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