Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the petition of an anti-abortion protester who claims that the State of Massachuetts is trampling her first amendments right to free speech. The state of Massachuetts passed a law which makes it illegal to approach a woman within 35 ft of the door of an abortion-providing clinic. They passed this law after literally decades of indecent behavior by anti-abortion protesters who shouted at, shamed, harassed, spit upon and even attacked women seeking a legal abortion and those who were providing them legitimate medical services.
Of course, the protesters now claim that all they want to do is have a civil, “polite” conversation with the women going into the clinic, with the hope that they can dissuade them from doing so.
Justice Scalia, always a proponent of individual human rights (/sarcasm), seemed to warm to this argument:
“This is not a protest case,” he said. “These people don’t want to protest abortion. They want to talk to the women who are about to get abortions and try to talk them out of it.”
Even though his conclusion seems to fall down under the fact that the same protesters stand in front of the clinic carrying signs with anti-abortion propoganda (which is, almost by definition, a protest – not a “conversation”), the point he tries to make is only one simple-minded view of the subject.
In fact, what these people want to do is to REMOVE the freedom of self determination and autonomous control over the body from women seeking an abortion by arguing or shaming them into submission. Again and again in our society, we see examples of people who claim a Constitutional right to speak, when their very goal is to deprive others of their legitimate speech, actions or associations.
Of course, this is not a tactic reserved for use by antiabortionists. Tea party members shouted down congresspeople in town halls around this country but a few years ago. Fred Phelps and the members of the Westboro Bapist Church have been spreading their hate across the country more or less continuously since they demonstrated out front the funeral of Matthew Shepard. And closer to home, animal rights extremists have repeatedly used the same threatening, dehumanizing, angry, hateful tactic against biomedical researchers whose search for cures and knowledge involves the study of animal models.
The relationships between antiabortionists who seek to control womens’ reproductive rights, the Westboro Baptist Church’s desire to control sexual rights and anti-research extremists who attempt to suppress legal, humane and responsible research goes well beyond shared use of tactics.
Instead, what is shared between them is the almost religious sense they all have that their position – and their position alone – is the “right” one and that those that do not follow their “higher” path should be punished. They exude narcissim, believing their superior point of view entitles them to force you to listen to them, even while they need never listen in return. They are twisted by psychopathology that has warped their minds and ethical framework so badly that hurting others, blowing up cars, sending razor blades in the mail, damaging lives and frightening children are all “legitimate tactics” in their minds. It’s why Animal Rights Extremist groups are now recognized as hate groups, right alongside Operation Rescue, the Westboro Baptist Church and white supremacists.
It is regrettable that it is so common that the 1st Amendment is called up to protect hateful and vitriolic speech. Instead of just spewing hate because of their “right” to do so, these groups should be thinking about taking responsibility for the pain and suffering their hatred causes. In my view, the law has every reason to intervene when conversation becomes harassment, when words become threats and when one person is determined us use their speech to deprive others of their rights.