Commentary

12.14.15

When Protecting Liberty Means Defending Your Enemy

By

woman waiting for medical assistance

“What if someone were to kill you!”

This is one of the more common threats yelled at me and my fellow clinic escorts when we volunteer at Cleveland’s Preterm Abortion Clinic. Such terrorizing phrases come from a group of self-identified “pro-life” protesters, who wait outside the clinic daily to voice their dissension towards and disrespect for the clinic’s staff, volunteers, security guards, patients and women in general.

They tell us that anyone associated with a clinic that provides abortions is evil. They are not interested in a discussion about what is constitutional, what promotes women’s health, or what is scientifically accurate. We have seen them celebrate when they see they make a patient cry.

But as long as they do not occupy private property or physically harm anyone, they have a right to protest. Their judgmental protests – often crude and vulgar — are protected under our county’s Constitution, the charter of our nation that the ACLU defends. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled repeatedly that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, which means the government cannot interfere with the right to protest, the freedom of the press, or religious liberty.

As of July 2015, states have enacted a total of 282 abortion restrictions since 2010.

A Difficult Task

The ACLU takes pride in defending and strengthening the First Amendment, even for people we don’t agree with. We do so because in order for our country to be a true hallmark of justice, it must be governed by laws and not the whims of public officials’ opinions. A constitutional democracy cannot function successfully without adherence to a governing document.

But that does not make the job easy.

It is difficult to witness the efforts and energy protesters put into stalking clinic employees, making graphic signs of aborted fetuses and shouting racist and insensitive remarks towards patients. And the people elected to uphold the Constitution certainly aren’t helping. Politicians validate the drive of these protesters with their sweeping and invasive legislation that blocks reproductive healthcare access for men and women all across the country.

Since 2010, states have enacted at least 282 abortion restrictions and sadly, that number continues to grow. Ohio nears the top of this shameful list as the state is now considered “extremely hostile” to abortion rights. This hostility is very real, as we see from ever-present threats of violence against abortion clinics, reproductive health providers and their families.

Ohio politicians have coordinated an attack on reproductive rights, using behind-the-scene tactics to poison Ohio’s budget bills with anti-choice legislation.

Liberty Over Hate

Unlike those we often defend, the ACLU has no intention of abandoning the Constitution and the liberties it guarantees.

The protesters will continue to yell their insensitive, hateful remarks outside of Preterm and every other reproductive healthcare facility throughout the nation. The ACLU will continue to defend their right to free speech. But we will also fight proudly and without compromise to strengthen and secure reproductive freedom for all. We will not back down.

Because that’s what you do in a country governed by laws.

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