ABORTION INDUSTRY IN MELBOURNE, FLORIDA
Our Sunday Visitor, February 21, 1999 - Viewpoint
by Kathy Gallagher
The myth of "safe access" laws
Specific restrictions on the civil rights of abortion protestors constitute belief-based discrimination.
THEY ARE ALL ABOUT ADVANCING THE ABORTION BUSINESS.
The October assassination of abortionist Barnett Slepian in Amherst, N.Y., was antithetical to all that I stand for as a peaceful pro-life person. There is no justification for shooting someone in cold blood.
Make no mistake: I believe Dr. Slepian was employed in the most ignoble and violent of trades. Abortionists make their money by destroying the lives of innocent infants in the womb. Yet, as offensive as the violence inside the clinics may be, it can never justify acts of vigilantism outside the clinics, much less inside the abortionist's home. The shooting of Slepian was a deplorable, despicable, cowardly and unjustifiable act.
Also deplorable are efforts by abortion advocates to exploit this slaying to promote legislation they say would "guarantee'' safe access to abortion clinics. In New York, several proposals have been advanced to increase criminal penalties for such ill-defined acts as "obstructing" or "interfering" with clinic access. These superfluous and biased measures would undermine the civil rights of all.
Personally, I am not the public-demonstration type. But I have many pro-lift friends and colleagues who pray the Rosary or peacefully protest on the sidewalk. I have the utmost respect and admiration for them.
It's difficult to comprehend the abortion lobby's contention that peaceful prolife protests by housewives and grandparents somehow encourage violence. I fail to see how their legislation would reduce violent incidents such as the shooting of Slepian. New York already has laws on the books penalizing violence. Murder is a felony. Yet even the threat of execution did not deter Slepian's killer. Is a new clinic-access law really going to help?
Harassment, vandalism, arson and assault, wherever they occur, are all against New York's Penal Code. On the federal level, Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, subjecting people who engage in nonviolent physical obstruction at an abortion clinic to a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment up to six months for a first offense. Anyone aggrieved by someone silently praying or handing out literature can already call in the federal marshals.
Some localities have clinic-access laws all their own. In Kings County, a clinic is suing Brooklyn's bishop and others under the New York City Code, claiming that these people -- who have engaged in peaceful prayer and leafleting under police supervision with a permit -- have somehow violated the law. The defendants have retained counsel and incurred significant legal expenses to defend themselves against this baseless lawsuit.
What should alarm civil-liberty defenders most about the new clinic-access proposals is that they target not specific behavior, but specific beliefs. They would criminalize nonviolent sit-ins against abortion but would not prohibit identical conduct motivated by other viewpoints. Thus they would penalize people not for how they act, but for why they act.
Imagine two people blocking the door of a health facility. One is protesting that the agency is not doing enough AIDS research; the other is protesting the abortions taking place inside. The abortion protester could face both criminal and civil actions; abortionists could sue, collect damages and obtain a restraining order. The most the AIDS protester could be charged with is a mere violation, the equivalent of a parking ticket.
Such belief-based discrimination cannot be reconciled with this country's long tradition of public protest and civil disobedience. We need only look at the early labor demonstrations or the picket lines accompanying present-day strikes. We have seen it in the context of the war in Vietnam, the struggle for racial equality), the threat of nuclear proliferation and a wide variety of domestic social issues.
Pro-life protest is not violence. It is a core freedom in our democracy, which has always permitted even the most unpopular forms of dissenting speech. "Clinic access" proposals have nothing to do with maintaining public order, guaranteeing safety or stopping violence. They are all about advancing the abortion business, stifling free speech and intimidating those who hold the politically unpopular belief that the defense of human life in its earliest stages is a valid and critical objective.
No law can guarantee safety from random, isolated acts of violence. But the just response to the murder of Barnett Slepian is swift apprehension and punishment of those who committed the act, not intimidation of those who didn't.
Gallagher is associate director of the New York State Catholic Conference.
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