Protection for protesters 

An incident outside Missoula’s Blue Mountain Clinic in September 2007 involving an anti-abortion protester and a volunteer patient escort has prompted Jim Shockley, R-Victor, to introduce a bill to protect protesters.

The “reverse bubble bill” would counterbalance 2005’s “bubble bill,” which made obstructing access to a health care facility a crime and established an eight-foot buffer around a person entering or leaving a facility.

Shockley’s proposal, Senate Bill 497, would effectively establish the same eight-foot buffer around protesters to protect their right to demonstrate. It unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

According to city court records, protester Cathy Kulonis was charged with disorderly conduct for blocking the pathway of volunteer escort Carol Marsh outside Blue Mountain Clinic on September 12, 2007. But it was Marsh who initiated contact, allegedly inadvertently. The case was dismissed.

As clinic director Anita Kuennen describes the incident, Marsh was forced to step off the sidewalk to avoid Kulonis and “lost her balance and brushed up against her.”

Shockley—the attorney who represented Kulonis—says the “brushed up against” was more of a “plowing into.” In any case, he concluded protesters need a buffer, too.

But Kuennen believes the bill isn’t necessary.

“It’s a reactionary attempt to claim that there’s some kind of need for them to be protected in their demonstration,” she says. “Honestly, I think it’s a bogus attempt at trying to make it seem like we’re the aggressors in the situation, where the clinic has really taken a very proactive stance to not engage and not escalate the situation.”

The proposed bill is even more bizarre, Kuennen adds, considering how amiable she and other Blue Mountain staffers are toward repeat protesters, and vice versa. She likens the relationship to the classic “Wolf and Sheepdog” Warner Bros. cartoon, in which the characters greet each other: “Mornin’ Sam.” “Good morning Ralph.”

“We do that,” Kuennen says. “That’s how (we) interact every week.”
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