Liberal Writer Stands Up for Pro-Lifers’ Free Speech on Abortion

National   |   Ken Shepherd   |   Jan 17, 2014   |   5:01PM   |   Washington, DC

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard a case, McCullen v. Coakley, which calls into question a Massachusetts law which establishes a speech-free-zone extending 35 feet from the entrance to an abortion clinic. That law provides, however, an exemption for the speech of employees or agents of said abortion clinics, effectively serving as restriction on speech which is NOT content-neutral.

To the extent that liberals in the media have bothered to cover this, there is no shortage of sympathy for the abortion-rights absolutists who vociferously defend this law. That’s why a kudos is in order for the Daily Beast not only publishing but promoting on its landing page pro-life liberal Kirsten Powers’s warning to her fellow lefties headlined, “Anti-Free Speech Zones Used to Silence Pro-Lifers Could Come Back to Haunt Liberals.” Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday for McCullen v. Coakley, a case in which anti-abortion activists argue that their First Amendment rights have been violated by a 2007 Massachusetts law that bars any person from entering or staying in fixed 35-foot-buffer zones around entrances to abortion clinics.

By “any person” they mean “any person who says something negative about abortion,” because there are exceptions for people going into or coming out of the building, people using the sidewalk to get somewhere else, law enforcement officials, and clinic employees. If you fall into one of the categories of exception, you are allowed to speak in the zone.  If you don’t, the government says you are not allowed to speak.

Justice Alito tried to explain the absurdity of this law to Jennifer Grace Miller, the lawyer representing the government, with the example of two women entering the zone. One is an employee, one is not.  The employee says, “Good morning. This is a safe facility.”  The other woman says, “Good morning. This is an unsafe facility.”  Only one of these women has committed a crime under the Massachusetts statute.  (Guess which one).

Mark Rienzi, who argued the case against the buffer zones, told the Court that the zone is, “a place where the government claims it can essentially turn off the First Amendment” for some people but not others. Justice Scalia described it as a “dead speech zone.”

What is perhaps most disturbing is that the Massachusetts law was created by people who call themselves liberal.  It is also being defended by an assortment of liberals from the ACLU to Planned Parenthood. Which raises an obvious question:  Is it now liberal to oppose free speech?


The state is required to use the least restrictive means to accomplish its goals. Instead of enforcing the many laws already on the books, they have concocted the kind of overreaching law that should send chills up the spine of every American.

Now, if you are an abortion-rights supporter you may still be thinking, “I don’t want anti-abortion advocates bothering women going into abortion clinics, so I’m okay with this.”  That’s an understandable sentiment. But even if this law was constitutional—and it isn’t—one has to consider the implications of accepting the government exercising such a broad power that infringes on constitutionally protected free speech.

Ironically, a law championed by liberals could end up having dire implications for many liberal causes. Will Potter is a journalist and author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, which chronicles the political, legal, and public relations strategies that threaten even acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. He told me that the Massachusetts bill, “is setting the precedent of applying this approach to the animal rights and environmental movements.”  Despite being pro-abortion rights, Potter says of the abortion clinic buffer zone, “I would oppose these kinds laws [because] it’s about restricting speech.”  He points out that, “Oregon passed a law to allow loggers to sue protestors who disrupt business using the same kind of language…it’s identical…to [the Massachusetts law].”



If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Massachusetts law, it’s not hard to imagine businesses lobbying to create zones where union members are not allowed to speak, but workers for the business are. Businesses could use the same logic used in McCullen:  the picketers are disrupting business and upsetting customers. So, government, please silence them—even though they are standing on a public sidewalk.

On the left side of the ideological divide, groups like People for the American Way and the Southern Poverty Law Center are throwing in with the likes of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America to support the Massachusetts law and its defender, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, while Democrats for Life of America and, yes, the AFL-CIO filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting pro-life activist Eleanor McCullen.

If the liberal media were interested in an interesting internecine fight in the liberal Democratic coalition, McCullen v. Coakley would be a great news hook to explore such a rift. But the national liberal media have no interest in doing that, even as they’re intent on hyping real and imagined differences of opinion on policy matters within the conservative Republican coalition as we hurtle towards the midterm elections. Note: Ken Shepherd is the managing editor for NewsBusters and a former analyst at the Media Research Center who identifies examples of media bias. This originally appeared on NewsBusters and is reprinted with permission.