In Australia, we do not have a constitution that guarantees us the first amendment rights that so many protestors in America jump behind when questioned about what they are doing standing outside abortion clinics protesting as aggressively as they do. We do have however, our own constitution that provides us with 5 basic freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. The first 3 from that list would suggest that in a protest situation the protestors are merely exercising these freedoms and as such have every right to be there expressing themselves, and for the most part they do. However as soon as other parties start feeling harassed, intimidated or bullied, there are other laws that are in place to protect them from being persecuted, and as such the law is obligated to intervene. Protestors should be free express themselves, but not at anyone else expense. One persons liberties do not out way anyone else’s. Offensive signage and stand over tactics are protest strategies that cross the line when it comes to public decency and civil liberties.
Those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy understand the true power of civilised debate. Our governments function by looking at issues, discussing them, and negotiating law and policy based on the best interests of their constituents. Whilst the actual parliamentary debates might not be as “civilised” as we would like them to be, they do take place in accordance to certain protocols that assure that everyone involved is respected and has a chance to express their views, thoughts and beliefs rationally. Essentially it is a dialogue designed to argue one point of view against another.
I have been looking at a lot of content over the internet, searching for anything related to our cause and i keep hearing people coming back to freedom of speech, “you cant stop me from protesting, i have freedom of speech”. Yes we understand you are entitled to certain civil liberties that do give you the right to protest abortion. But they are CIVIL liberties, and as the name would suggest they need to be exercised with a certain degree of civility.
So if you do decide to protest an issue please make sure to be civil about your liberties!
Can a counter protest do more harm than good?
I have been thinking about this for a while in relation to anti-abortion protest groups and in this case i have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question for the most part no. While you might be trying to represent the other side of the issue basically your drawing more attention to the conflict than the issue. There are a lot of issues that society will never agree on unanimously, and protests are a valid way to voice your objection to one. But a direct counter-protest may not always be the most effective, especially concerning the abortion debate. While you may be there in support, the patients aren’t taking the time to ask your intentions. Even if you bring supportive, signs the patients are usually not taking the time to read them. Your just part of the loud angry mass that are screaming at one anther, every body and nobody. Think about it in terms of bullying on the playground at school, there are two ways you can chose to handle a situation like that. You can either confront the bully with the same behaviours they have been inflicting upon you, usually that ends badly for one party; or you can mediate the conflict. Discuss the terms of peace, rationally so that it is fair for both sides. Needless to say attempting to end conflict by responding with the same behaviour is usually the less desirable path.
There are plenty of alternative initiatives to counter the anti-abortion protest groups. I have supplied two effective links below:
Voice of Choice – www.vochoice.org
Boycott 40 days for life – http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=boycott40daysforlife&isTeam=true
What we really need is an intervention from the law. Other cities around the world have instituted buffer zone laws that set a safe zone around the clinics, and/or patients and staff ensuring safe and unobstructed entry for all. These laws do not infringe on the protestors civil rights. With a buffer zone in play anti-abortion protestors are still able to publicly voice their objections to abortion just not in a way where they are given the opportunity to bully, goad, or intimidate those who don’t agree with them.
If you check a dictionary for what it means to be a bully you will find that it means “to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.” If we take this definition and compare it to protest which is “to express an objection to what someone has said or done;” or “to declare (something) firmly and emphatically in response to doubt or accusation” there is an obvious distinction between the two. Protestors protest an issue, bullies bully people. Our anti abortion protestors are dancing the line between these two definitions, but for the most part they are bullying a particularly vulnerable demographic as well as people who work to support them in their choice.
In this case the protestors superior strength is their numbers, they are an organised GROUP who mass together to intimidate people who do share their beliefs (the INDIVIDUALS or COUPLES entering the clinics). Their graphic signage is designed to shock and offend. However they are offered to the public with an explicit lack of context. We do not know the stories behind these images, for all we know their was a complication with the particular foetus being portrayed and it would have been still born anyway, in which case it is safer for the mother to have it removed.
A protest can be effective anywhere there are people to listen to the message. Getting someones attention doesnt require you to be offensive or intimidating others so they accept your perspective. Harassment is Illegal, in any other situation the police would be obligated to step and move the group on, but they dont. So why are these strategies allowed to persist?