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Pro-life? Then be quiet

National | Civil libertarians and a Canadian court try to silence anti-abortion speech

Issue: "Is our military ready?," May 29, 1999

ACLU changes tune
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has in the past defended as free speech some startling things: a Ku Klux Klan call for violence against the president, a neo-Nazi demonstration in a mainly Jewish town, and a black militant's summons to "break the necks" of blacks who violated a boycott of white-owned businesses in Mississippi. But the ACLU has a blind spot regarding the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion activists, says a former ACLU insider. She points to the group's reaction to a Portland, Ore., jury's $107 million award in "The Nuremberg Files" case in February. In that case, Planned Parenthood and four abortionists sued the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) over the group's Web site. The ACLA site, which dripped with simulated fetus blood, featured a "Wanted" list of names, photos, addresses, and other information about several abortion doctors. An ACLU press release called the verdict against ACLA a "clarion call to remove violence and the threat of violence from the political debate over abortion." But had the ACLU been true to its roots, it would have supported the pro-life activists, contends Robyn Blumner, formerly executive director of the organization's Florida affiliate. The Web site "is ugly, scary stuff," she wrote in a Wall Street Journal column, "but it is no worse than neo-Nazi calls for the annihilation of the Jewish people, or a college student posting his rape fantasies on the Web, both of which the ACLU has defended in the past." Ira Glasser, executive director of the ACLU's national office, responded in a letter to The Wall Street Journal that it is one thing to say that all abortion doctors deserve to die. It is another to publish detailed information on wanted posters about particular doctors and then triumphantly cross out their names when particular doctors are killed. Ms. Blumner, who left the organization in 1997 to write for the St. Petersburg Times, told WORLD that she doesn't see that distinction and neither, until recently, did the ACLU. The black Mississippi militants, for example, published a hit list, and some who violated the boycott were beaten up. In 1982 the Supreme Court ruled that the boycott speeches and lists were part of a public debate that should be wide-open. Paradoxically, that was a verdict the ACLU applauded. Canada gags news journal
A judicial gag order slapped on Alberta Report, the Canadian news journal that exposed a horrific late-term abortion procedure at an Alberta hospital (WORLD, April 24), has backfired. The order, which flies in the face of the Canadian right to freedom of the press, has infuriated even partisan pro-abortion journalists there. For the first time ever, staff members at the conservative Alberta Report find themselves on the same team as their liberal media colleagues. Using documents and testimony obtained from unnamed nurses inside Calgary Foothills Hospital, the Alberta Report exposé unveiled a procedure known as "genetic termination," in which babies as old as 35-weeks gestational age are killed in utero. Nurses said babies who survived the procedure-some so developed, said one nurse, that their bodies stretched from her hand to her elbow-were left to die outside the womb. When the story broke, some Canadians were outraged, and an unwelcome flood of mainstream media attention poured over Foothills Hospital. Then, in late April, a Calgary court issued a temporary injunction against Alberta Report. At the request of hospital attorneys, the order prevents the magazine from disclosing any further information contained in the hospital documents. Further, the hospital requested that Alberta Report return all original documents, destroy all copies, prevent magazine employees from discussing the information among themselves, and reveal the names of everyone who ever received the information. "This really went down badly among the media," says Alberta Report editor and publisher Link Byfield, who said the magazine will not hand over the papers or reveal the names of people connected to the story. "I've never seen this much interest in abortion as an issue among liberal journalists. Their attitude always used to be that there was no basic coherency or legitimacy to the pro-life side, that it was not even worth seriously discussing." Now journalists in Alberta are discussing not only the Calgary court's flagrant disregard for free speech, but whether Canadian hospital authorities are lying about the activities of member hospitals, and the future of abortion and eugenics in Canada. Since "genetic termination" kills babies diagnosed with genetic defects in utero, said Mr. Byfield, many reporters feel the practice amounts to a policy for eliminating the handicapped. "That strikes a chill in people's guts," said Mr. Byfield. "They're not sure where such a policy will lead next." ±

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Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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