When is free speech and peaceful protest in a free society against the law?
Apparently only when it is about, abortion.
In Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT, exclusion zones have been put in place to prevent any anti-abortion demonstration, and in NSW the Greens are advocating similar zones.
On Wednesday, Graham Preston was the latest person to be fined for such a protest. Preston was arrested in Hobart in April last year for standing peacefully near an abortion clinic, holding a sign saying: “Everyone has the right to life, Article 3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The back said: “Every child has the right to life, Article 6 Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Another sign held by someone else showed an unborn child eight weeks from conception. Preston was fined $3000.
There is a right to peaceful protest. However, our freedom of speech is under attack from restrictive anti-protest laws that prioritise political ideologies over individual rights. These laws are not aimed at protecting the rights of vulnerable women against harassment or at violent protest. They are aimed at any dissent, no matter how passive, against the activities of an abortion clinic. What is more, the laws are aimed only at anti-abortion sentiment and unlikely to be used against those expressing pro-abortion sentiment.
The law that has allowed these exclusion zones is extremely unclear. The exclusion zone in Tasmania is very broad, 150m, and includes two major churches, and the act is meant to capture a broad spectrum of behaviour.
As claimed in the minister’s second reading speech, cited in Preston’s case, this will not stop sermons unless they are “broadcast by loudspeakers”, or friendly discussion. However, it will stop “vocal anti-choice protest” and “silent protest outside termination clinics that purport to be vigilant of sorts or peaceful protests but, which by their very location, are undoubtedly an expression of disapproval”. Preston argued that his protest was an extension of his religious views but, while the magistrate accepted that point, the form of silent protest was construed to be a disturbance of public order.
In the ACT, where exclusion zones also have been enforced by fines, the denial of the right to protest has been extended to the silent prayers of a single individual.
Kerry Mellor is part of a group that has been assembling to pray outside 1 Moore Street every Friday for 18 years. In the past they had a sign that said “pray to end abortion”, some “choose life” signs and holy pictures. They were essentially religious protests and didn’t have any material to give out. Most people wanting abortion went in the side door. A few people looked askance or spat at the group, and sometimes people joined in the prayers. But there was never any great confrontation. The group became a sort of Canberra institution, “the people outside the abortion clinic”.
After the exclusion zone around the ACT abortion clinic run by Marie Stopes International was put into place in March, Mellor was fined $750, in April. However, he was able to contest and it was withdrawn because he wasn’t in the exclusion zone but on an opposite corner. So then the ACT government changed the zone.
The zone now includes most of the street and a good portion of other streets to make it difficult for anyone to see any of the group.
However, recently on Friday morning, Mellor was within the zone accompanied by others. There were six police and three vehicles including a paddy wagon. Other members of the group moved on. Mellor claims, “I was alone … I prayed silently, the sergeant greeted me and asked me did I know I was within the protected area. Was I aware I was engaged in prohibited behaviour? I replied that prayer is not prohibited. He said it was in that area.”
Mellor continued to pray silently with his hands in his pockets. He didn’t display his rosary but they continued to ask what he was doing. Mellor asked what was the evidence of protest. Then, according to Mellor, the policeman said he saw him “bow his head and make sign of the cross” and this was evidence of his offence of protest in protected area. Prayer was the defining element of the offence. Mellor has been issued a criminal infringement notice. He does not intend to pay a fine because he feels his religious liberty, his right to peaceful silent religious expression, is being infringed. He says the only way to resolve this is in a court.
In the ACT it is not surprising that the law is being used to uphold the rights of abortion providers against those who oppose abortion. Aside from the green-left ideological complexion of the ACT government, the Stopes clinic is run as an adjunct of the government health clinic. It operates out of an ACT government health facility, for which it is charged a peppercorn rent of $1 a year.
The introduction of the exclusion zone is an unnecessary infringement of citizens’ rights despite support for the legislation by the ACT Human Rights Commission. The claim by ACT MP Shane Rattenbury that “sometimes single viewpoint pamphlets have been handed out”, and his implication that this is offensive, has ramifications for the right of protest and the nature of all public discourse.
Preston is keen to appeal the magistrate’s ruling and his lawyer is examining the 23-page decision. He cannot and will not pay the $3000 fine; in the past he has gone to jail for this reason in Queensland, effectively a political prisoner. Most media outlets have refused to report his imprisonment.
In the US the Supreme Court has overturned similar exclusion zones. You do not have to share Right to Life’s view about abortion to be concerned about this dangerous development.
Related: Article 3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders explained their support for keeping abortion legal until a baby is born, though their positions were expressed in different ways.
In separate appearances on the same stage Monday night in Detroit, Michigan, Clinton and Sanders were asked about abortion at the Fox News televised town hall.
“Can you name a single circumstance at any point in a pregnancy in which you would be OK with abortion being illegal?” moderator Brett Baier asked.
Sanders did not name a single circumstance, saying, “It is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body.”
“I know not everybody here will agree with me. I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body. I think, I believe, and I understand there are honest people. I mean, I have a lot of friends, some supporters, some disagree. They hold a different point of view, and I respect that. But that is my view,” said Sanders, a U.S. Senator from Vermont.
He accused pro-life Republicans of hypocrisy, saying they speak out against government intervention in people’s personal lives, “but somehow on this issue they want to tell every woman in America what she should do with her body.”
When asked more specifically whether there should be restrictions to late-term pregnancies, he said: “I am very strongly pro-choice. That is a choice to be made between a woman, her physician and her family.”
In another part of the debate, however, Sanders supported human rights. When asked why he believes healthcare is the right of all people, he answered, “being a human, being a human,” adding that the right is for everyone regardless of their circumstances in life.
Clinton’s answer to the abortion question was more nuanced, but in practice the same as Sanders’ position.
“Do you think a child should have any legal rights or protections before its born? Or do you think there should not be any restrictions on any abortions at any stage in a pregnancy?” Baier asked.
“Under Roe v. Wade, which is rooted in the Constitution, women have this right to make this highly personal decision with their family in accordance with their faith, with their doctor,” she answered. “It’s not much of a right if it is totally limited and constrained.”
After Baier pressed again, “without any exceptions?” Clinton said she would support restrictions to late term-abortions as long as it had an “exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”
In the Supreme Court case of Doe v. Bolton, the health exception was defined so liberally that it effectively made abortion legal throughout the term of a pregnancy. The health of the mother can be “exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient,” the Court said.
Clinton and Sanders are out of step with a vast majority of Americans on this issue.
According to Gallup, 80 percent of Americans in 2012 believe abortion should be illegal in that last three months of pregnancy. A January 2015 Marist poll similarly showed 84 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be restricted to either the first trimester or only cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.
While this is the first time the candidates have been asked about their abortion views during the presidential debates, Sanders has made his views clear on a number of occasions, including a speech at Liberty University back in September 2015.
Sanders, who has said that he believes God in his own way but is not part of a particular religion, told the Christian students at the college that he understands that there are those that strongly disagree with him, but he does not compromise on “women’s rights,” by which he meant the rights of mothers, not unborn women.
“It is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you. It is harder, but not less important, for us to try to communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue and it is important to see where, if possible, and I do believe its possible, we can find common grounds,” he said at the time.
The Democratic candidates’ stances on abortion differ significantly from their Republican rivals, who have all expressed pro-life views. Florida Senator Marco Rubio backs a total ban on abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.
“I do support protection for the life of the mother because I’m pro-life,” Rubio said in February.
“I just believe deeply that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws. If I’m president and there’s a bill that’s passed that saves lives but it has exceptions, I’ll sign it. But I do believe deeply that all human life is worthy of the protection of laws. I’ve already said, for me, the issue of life is not a political issue and I want to be frank. I would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life.”
Clinton and Sanders’ position on abortion has been widely criticized by pro-life groups, including by Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America.
In an article on LifeNews in February, Hawkins argued that the Democratic candidates are not pressed on abortion issues during debates “because it would be a disgrace to their party if Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton got up on stage and started arguing who would uphold Roe v. Wade in all its glory of making abortion legal in this nation throughout all nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever.”
March 8, 2016 | by Stoyan Zaimov , Christian Post Reporter | christianpost.com “Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders Both Want Abortion Legal Until Baby Is Born”
We are killing babies all over the place. I’ve spent my entire career trying to preserve life… operating all night long sometimes on premature babies… There is no way you’re going to convince me that they’re not important, that they’re just a mass of cells.
-Dr. Ben Carson
breitbart.com: : Ben Carson Stands up for Pro-Life Movement on ‘The View’
“You sort of feel that there’s not a war on women, but there may be a war on what’s inside of women,” Goldberg told Carson. “Is that accurate?”
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