I’m no lawyer, but I do have some background in the law. The unanimous ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v Coakley that struck down a Massachusetts law barring anti-choice protesters from approaching abortion clinics within 35 feet was ill-considered on at least two levels.
First, it extended the sanction of free speech to a forced captive audience. Second, it extended the sanction of free speech to harassment.
Traditionally, protesters on opposite side of issues have been physically separated by police in the interest of keeping the peace. That practical and workable idea ought to have been enough by itself to sustain the state law here. But, no, the justices in their infinite Bible-driven wisdom must bend over backwards to protect those who claim to be protecting the unborn.
Intelligent people can and do disagree about when human life begins. A dialog between those of differing views can have a positive outcome for one or both people if they are open-minded. But the type of speech this ruling has now enshrined in the Constitution isn’t informed, meaningful dialog. It is attacking, harassing, in-your-face speech intended to shock and offend. From one news report on the ruling: “The law was challenged on First Amendment grounds by opponents of abortion who said they sought to have quiet conversations with women entering clinics to tell them about alternatives to abortion.”
Exactly. Confrontation is the clearly stated intent here. A woman entering a reproductive health clinic — who may or may not be considering or planning a perfectly legal abortion and who may or may not welcome the “information” from the anti-choice protesters — can be forced to listen to a “quiet [read, up-close-and-personal] conversation” (as if a “conversation” can be one-sided) from an ardent opponent of what she has a perfectly legal right to do.
Shouldn’t the right of free speech include the right not to be forced to listen?
Let’s hypothesize a couple who have decided to take their child to a doctor for some vaccinations. Can someone who thinks vaccinations are dangerous stop them on the way into their doctor’s office to harangue them about why what they are about to do is wrong? Perhaps even more on point, can an anti-vaccination protester stop everyone going into that doctor’s office to ask them if they’re planning to get a vaccine? How far can this idea of one-on-one forced persuasion be taken?
I guarantee you it will be taken a lot farther than a short-sighted Supreme Court considered in its suspect ruling today.
It’s highly unusual these days for the Court to rule by any margin greater than 5-4, but that doesn’t make a unanimous ruling correct.