Grant anti-abortion activists freedom of speech

The state of Colorado has what is known as a bubble law. Within 100 feet of an abortion clinic, protesters cannot get within eight feet of a patient. The law is designed to protect patients from the harrowing blockades, verbal abuse and spitting with which protesters sometimes accost them. The bubble law is kind and just, and Minnesota would be wise to adopt a similar law.

It does not impede on the First Amendment rights of protesters who are still able to espouse their beliefs to those entering the clinics, and this is paramount. If the law, no matter how kind and benevolent, infringed on free speech in any way, it would be unjust. And that is why the Supreme Court must overturn a lower-court ruling that placed a 10-year ban on a group of tenacious anti-abortion protesters who have continually harassed, vandalized and disrupted abortion clinics and their patients.

Operation Rescue, anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler and others have been prohibited from interfering with clinics’ operations for 10 years following a lower-court decision that cited the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. For 15 years, these protesters have been threatening doctors, nurses and patients. They have blocked entrances and destroyed equipment at the clinics. Yet no matter how objectionable their actions have been, the protesters have a right to speak their piece. Barring them from protesting at clinics strips them of this right and therefore is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that the National Organization for Women, a women’s rights organization, and abortion clinics have the right to sue anti-abortion groups under the RICO Act, which lists one form of racketeering as “any act or threat involving murder.” Fringe anti-abortionists are well known for the unscrupulous tact of threatening to murder anyone involved in abortion – sadly, they sometimes follow through. Although these actions will never be protected under the First Amendment, engaging in them should not forfeit the criminal’s free speech right. Imagine our country if a convicted murderer was prohibited from writing a book about, for instance, corruption in the prison system.

The Supreme Court’s decision will bear heavily on civil disobedience cases. Preventing the anti-abortionists from continuing with their protests will allow for similar treatment of other civil rights groups. And civil disobedience has long been a powerful tool to shift societal paradigms and elicit progressive growth.

From the Boston Tea Party through the abolitionist and civil rights movements to present struggles, this country progresses because new ideas, which destroy the old and are often vehemently opposed, are pushed forward into the spotlight where they are illuminated for all to see and consider. Here at the University, in the early 1970s, students and staff protested the escalating Vietnam War by annexing Coffman Union and declaring it a “liberated territory” for protesters. Had these protesters and others like them from across the United States been banned from further civil disobedience, it is doubtful the war would have ended as quickly as it did, ensuring the deaths of more American soldiers.

Today, anti-globalization protesters gather anywhere there is a World Trade Organization meeting. Many would find it unconscionable if they were barred from doing so. Yet barring anti-abortionists from going to clinics opens the doors for powerful corporate lobbyists to attempt just that. In fact, it opens the door for just about anyone to have his or her First Amendment rights stripped, and this cannot be allowed.