I support the right of the abortion protesters outside my clinic to make their cases. Every other Saturday morning, I wake up at 6:30am to walk women past them, talking softly and giving patients some of my patience in the face of surrounding ugliness, and this is my constitutional right as well. I deeply confirm what Justice Robert Jackson said in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943):
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
It would be unamerican to deny anti-abortion protesters the ability to argue for an unconditional restriction of women’s legal right to privacy, to terminate their pregnancies without interference before 12 weeks and with minimal interference before 23, and against access to contraception.
A national commitment to free speech doesn’t matter if it only protects the pretty blandaries of small politicians and beauty pageant contestants. Its meat, its soul, comes out when a man like Rush Limbaugh calls a Georgetown law student a slut for testifying before Congress. Justice Jackson was concerned with officials prescribing what would be orthodox. When Gloria Steinem called for the FCC to ban Rush Limbaugh from the airwaves because he brings shame upon the heads of all open-minded people, she was asking an official to prescribe an orthodoxy.
This is unamerican. The government has no part in making content-based determinations about anyone’s right to speech (with the usual obscenity restrictions as a given). This is not to say I do not support the Flush Rush movement; I do. I believe the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech but not a free platform.
I would make no constitutional bones if Rush Limbaugh was reduced to spitting his views his laptop, mixing his clips himself, and uploading his 3 hours a day onto YouTube for free viewing.
When I walked by the clinic today, the protesters shoved rubber fetuses in my face; I was walking with my husband and we had to stand between the protesters to wait for a light to change. I did not respond, though I have an equal right to speak my piece; I wanted to catch my bus and am secure enough in my beliefs I don’t need to test them against every mind I meet.
I don’t know how they would react if the tides of history turned, if I were standing for weeks protesting outside of a hospital, demanding women’s access to abortion. Holding up signs of dead women’s bodies; shouting about forced pregnancy; following doctors down the sidewalk, begging them to sign a petition to reinstate the right to choose.
I don’t know whether those women in those conservative dresses or those men in those hunting jackets would look at me and, though deploring my personal values, see in me a consecrated American value of free speech.
I can hope they would; and while I can, I can try to see the same in them.
“Free speech is not to be regulated like diseased cattle and impure butter. The audience that hissed yesterday may applaud today, even for the same performance.”–William O. Douglas