During this global pandemic caused by COVID-19, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to navigate the healthcare system and access the care they need. For people seeking abortion, it’s even harder. Anti-choice legislators have already placed significant restrictions on accessing abortion that are exacerbated by the current crisis. To make matters worse, anti-abortion protestors are doing the bare minimum to help flatten the curve, including continuing to harass and intimidate patients seeking this care.

In fact, protesters have continued to gather in large crowds outside of clinics, despite social gatherings restrictions put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus. In North Carolina, protesters from the anti-choice group 40 Days for Life Harassment have joked about and deliberately coughed on volunteer clinic escorts, using the coronavirus to spark fear in patients and volunteers. They’ve continued to promote and hold their anti-choice mass gatherings across 500 cities in the world throughout March, including in St. Louis City and at clinics in Illinois. While the anti-choice group recently suspended it’s #40DaysofHarassment campaign, shaming and harassing, providers and patients, whether during a pandemic or not, puts lives at risk. 

Amidst the spread of coronavirus, one thing is clear: Abortion providers, clinic staff and the patients they serve need a protected barrier between them and anti-choice protestors. Enter, buffer zones.

Started as a way to discourage groups of protestors from blocking entrances in front of clinics, these zones provide areas where individuals can stay safe while accessing health care. Buffer zones allow patients to acess abortion and reproductive health care center without engaging with “sidewalk counselors,” anti-choice protesters attempting to disuade them from entering the clinic and getting an abortion. But anti-choice protestors continue to trespass, harass, and threaten abortion clinics and their patients. 

With little resources and without buffer zones, clinics across the nation are doing their best to protect patients and staff from anti-choice violence — and the coronavirus. They’re practicing good hygiene by keeping waiting areas disinfected; assessing patients and staff for signs of the illness by checking patients’ temperatures at the doorway, and even consolidating sites and hours of operation to reduce transmission risk.

These practices are critical to flattening the curve and reducing the spread of coronavirus and ensuring access to essential abortion care. While the coronavirus pandemic has caused panic and confusion across the country, it’s shined a light on the urgent need for buffer zones. Without a buffer zone, providers and clinic staff fear for their lives while simply trying to provide essential, timely healthcare. Without a buffer zone, patients are unable to safely access reproductive healthcare with dignity and respect. Without a buffer zone, people seeking abortion are forced to jeopardize their health and safety — even amidst a global pandemic.  

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