Demand for Buffer Zone Around Reproductive Clinic Reignited

TW: Mentions of abortion, graphic imagery in links.

Graphic signs.  Foreboding calls.  Prayers in unison.

Women’s History Month bore a blaze.  Abortion access is the lingering coal.

The fight for reproductive rights has a long history in Gainesville.  The Gainesville chapter of National Women’s Liberation was part of the team to lower FDA restrictions on age and remove prescription requirements for the Morning-After pill.

The issue of abortion in Gainesville has remained prominent.  When Bread & Roses, an abortion clinic located at 1233 NW 10th Ave., reported an onslaught of protestors in 2013, it asked the city to employ buffer zones.  This would have prevented protestors from demonstrating within a 35-foot radius of the clinic.

However, this ordinance was not passed.  Mayor Lauren Poe cited a “lack of documentation, not a lack of reasonable cause to regulate.” 

Eight years later, his comment mirrors his email reply to Tess Tumarkin, a 29-year-old nursing student at the University of Florida.  She worked for Bread & Roses from Fall 2018 until Spring 2020, starting as a volunteer before she was hired.

While she worked there, he said protestors made a regular appearance.  “On any given day, there are usually multiple protestors there,” she said.  “And it’s been that way for a very long time.”

Tumarkin wrote an email to the mayor March 5 demanding buffer zones be set up. Mayor Poe replied that Gainesville Police Department is conducting an investigation to find the facts of the situation.  

“Once that is complete, our legal staff will draft a buffer policy for the commission’s consideration,” Poe wrote. He concludes the email encouraging anyone witnessing harassment to report it to GPD.

Tumarkin said she believes this investigation has been going on for over a year and has never witnessed police conducting an investigation while she worked there.

Bread & Roses declined to comment.

GPD's Public Information Officer Graham Glover said the police department’s role is to enforce any ordinance the commission puts into place.  “When and if the commission makes a decision, we will enforce any law they pass,” he said.

Pro-life gatherings are not unusual in Gainesville.  UF’s Turlington Plaza is a hotbed of anti-abortion protestors with demonstrations occurring as recently as March 2021, and as far back as 2013 under the direction of anti-abortion organization Created Equal, according to UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldán.  

The group gathered in March outside of the Bread & Roses Clinic and throughout UF Campus, ostensibly as part of its Justice Ride initiative which ran from Feb. 26 to March 6.

Catholic Gators, a group run by St. Augustine Church, also holds anti-abortion gatherings. The parish hosts a scheduled vigil called “Praying for the Unborn” outside of the Bread & Roses clinic.

By offering abortion services, Bread & Roses falls into a minority among Gainesville’s pregnancy centers.  Sira is a pregnancy center located on 13th street, next to Gainesville Planned Parenthood. Its site’s vision and commitment page states, “We do not offer, recommend, or refer for abortions or abortifacients, but are committed to offering accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.” 

Katherine Gratto, the executive director of Sira, said the clinic offers pregnancy service, ultrasounds and STI testing free to clients.  “We also try to connect them to any resources we can, say if they have needs for food or housing,” Gratto said.  “We try to connect them to community resources.”

Tumarkin said she feels hopeful about the potential for city commission to hear the issue again, but is concerned about the sluggish response from GPD. 

“People shouldn’t have to call the police to go to a doctor’s appointment,” she said.