Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The right to free speech on abortion

When it comes to freedom of speech, the Americans have it all over us Canadians by a long shot. For American citizens, freedom of speech is written into their Constitution. Here in Canada, we have no protection for our freedom of speech and we even have a Human Rights Commission to decide on issues where one party claims to be "offended" by the speech of another.

Case in point.

In mid-January, the Supreme Court of the US heard the case of Eleanor McCullen who was being blocked by a Massachusetts ordinance from getting any closer than 35 feet to an abortion clinic. For years, decades in fact, Eleanor has been quietly talking to women going into the clinic, trying to persuade them to make a different choice. And she has been quite successful, having saved hundreds of babies from abortion.

The case for McCullen was argued ably that morning by Mark Rienzi of the law school of the Catholic University of America, and it looks as though he will win this case. Apart from the clarity of his own argument, he is aided by the fact that the Court has changed in composition since it upheld a comparable statute from Colorado mandating a zone of eight feet away from abortion clinics.
The precedent for this case is Hill v. Colorado in 2000. When the case was presented that pro-lifers could maintain their protest at a distance from the clinic, Justice Scalia spoke up saying that these people are not protesting, but are in fact simply having a conversation with the abortion-bound women. And having a conversation at 8' or 35' is not possible. That would involve a megaphone and that would involve shouting, something that these sidewalk counselors are not doing. 

The case may very well be decided in favour of Eleanor McCullen. It makes me think of our own Linda Gibbons here in Canada who has spent more than 10 years in jail for doing that very thing, attempting to persuade women to consider another choice. She doesn't shout, she doesn't protest, she just talks quietly to them and tries to give them information on other choices they could consider. But here in Canada, Linda returns to jail over and over, because there is no allowance for her freedom of speech.

Does it not seem incomparably unfair that the staff of the abortion clinic can come out, take women by the arm, speak to them and steer them inside the doors of the clinic, while Linda goes to jail for trying to do the same thing but with a different result? The public sidewalk is public property, yet the right of abortion workers to talk to women there is never questioned, while Linda's right to speak is never granted.

I am anxious to see the result of this case. In so many ways, I think that we Canadians need to look to our southern neighbours to see how they are winning this fight.

Read about the case of Eleanor McCullen here

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