Abortion may not be a pleasant thought. On a case by case basis, it may not even be the best choice. Moreover, a portion of the population vilifies birth control, which should be another choice a woman, in consultation with her physician, can make about her own body. Still, the Supreme Court has recently made a couple of dangerous decisions concerning a woman’s right to choose. In a ruling that considers protesting abortion clinics is free speech, the justices have ignored the history that clearly shows pro-life demonstrators can be, and, too often were, terrorists. The second misogynist decision another aspect of reproductive choice financially impractical women if corporations and other employers claim birth control offends their religious beliefs. Yet, the theoretically religionless court probably would not have even heard a case in which an employer did not wish to pay for Viagra treatments – because Viagra involves a sacred object revered in another aspect of their religion.
On June 30, the Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., struck down a portion of the Affordable Care Act regarding birth control. The scant majority opinion, probably in as much animosity toward the president through his legislation as toward women, ruled that employers – including corporations – with strong religious beliefs did not have to pay for birth control. So now corporations have religious beliefs. Corporations are in reality a legal fiction that a business concern is an individual. I suppose we should not be too surprised that this particular SCOTUS 5-4 majority chose to embrace the feelings of a legal fiction rather than those of real women.
On June 26, the Supreme Court, in McCullen v. Coakley decided to remove Massachuset’s buffer zone between anti-abortion protesters and women seeking services at abortion clinics. The description in the SCOTUS Bulletin syllabus states “McCullen and the other petitioners are individuals who attempt to engage women approaching Massachusetts abortion clinics in ‘sidewalk counseling,’ which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options.”
On June 27, Glenda Bailey-Mershon author o Eve’s Garden posted on Facebook, “What I can attest to is that those anti-abortion protestors who hit me over the head with their signs and stomped on my feet deliberately as I helped women into the clinic were definitely not interested in helping anyone.” She went on to comment, “one wonders why no one notes the clear history of violence at clinics . . . [The petitioners] claimed they couldn’t ‘counsel’ women freely at such a distance, so the Court decided their rights of free speech were violated. Believe me, they aren’t interested in having a conversation with the women they terrorize.”
Bailey-Mershon, who presented at the Jane’s Stories 2014 Harvest Retreat forWomen Authors, also posted,“The ‘free speech’ the Supreme Court is protecting in McCullen vs. Coakley includes ‘eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, forty-two bombings, 181 arsons, as well as thousands of cases of criminal activity like kidnapping, stalking, and a rash of attacks using butyric acid’ at or near abortion clinics since the Roe v. Wade decision.2 If all that were happening at the Supreme Court, their buffer zone would be in Pennsylvania.”
While, in the early days, most of the related news stories were about the clinic bombings and other violence, not all anti-abortion activists approve of violence and intimidation. I remember hearing conservatives disapprove of an executive order by George H. W. Bush preventing health care professionals from even discussing abortion. These conservatives understood this gag applied to them as well as to the pro-choice camp and words can be even more effective than a bop on the head. Still, when one “speak[s] softly and carry[ies] a big stick,” one usually intends to burnish that stick as a weapon.
Ed Bailey-Mershon, Glenda’s husband, commented on the first post, “Whenever Glenda went on clinic duty, I was concerned and proud. Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater is not protected speech, but swinging a stick with a placard attached [and] yelling ‘murderer’ is protected speech.”
Inconsistency may be the “hobgoblin of small minds” but it has been a staple of politics since the dawn of government. In the early 1970s, as a reporter, I covered a lecture by a representative of the Jewish Defense League. He showed photos of the Nazi headquarters in Berwyn, Illinois that sat on the border between a black neighborhood and a white neighborhood. The Nazi’s put up signs on either side meant to inflame racist feelings in both communities. When hate becomes a passion, we call it a sickness and let that explain dangerous action and rhetoric. When the same action and rhetoric stems from beliefs we understand, we refrain from labeling it. We may decry it or reel in shock, but someone will scream “free speech,” and we back away.
Nazi’s have the same right to free speech as liberals. All religious beliefs must be heard and respected, but respect is an attitude not necessarily an action. With the right of free speech, comes the right not to listen. What the Supreme Court has done is refused to listen to those who believe it’s the right of women to consult with their own physicians rather than to ascribe the Court majority’s religious beliefs. One might say what the Court has done is stomp on the constitutional separation between church and state.
We can hope to someday have a Supreme Court majority who will not risk calling violence speech or equate a corporation with a human being, but, clearly, this is not that day.
1. source Roberts Court (2010-) – The Oyez Project via Wikipedia
2. See www.fastcodesign.com