The Pro Life Taboo

While Christian expression is in disfavor in certain circles, so are views grounded in Christian principles, such as pro-life advocacy. And this manifests itself in contexts other than opposition to judicial and executive branch nominees who are pro-life. Donald J. Grant, a medical ultrasound technician in Minnesota, has sued his employer, Fairview Health Services of Minneapolis, for failing to accommodate his religious beliefs as required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The action is based on Grant's termination after he allegedly encouraged a patient not to seek an abortion and offered to have a pastor contact her. This was the first time in his fourteen years as an ultrasound technician that Grant had ever counseled a patient on abortion. He agreed not to counsel patients on the subject in the future if the hospital would refrain from disclosing the patient's intent to have an abortion on the intake forms. Presumably, his conscience wouldn't permit him to remain silent if he were aware of the impending procedure. But instead of accommodating him, said his attorney Mathew D. Staver of Liberty Counsel, the company terminated him just two days after the incident.

For four years running, pro-life activists Mark Gabriel and Michael O'Hare peacefully demonstrated on the public sidewalk outside an abortion clinic owned by Planned Parenthood in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. The signs they carried neither blocked the sidewalk nor obstructed traffic, and they have been an important part of carrying their message to the public. The city cited Gabriel for violating a city ordinance prohibiting signs from public rights of way, and he was jailed for refusing in protest to pay the fine. After repeated threats of further tickets and fines, the men decided to file a suit against the city for using an unconstitutional ordinance to encroach on their liberties. As their attorney, Liberty Counsel's Mathew D. Staver, put it, "From the time of the founding of this country, the parks, streets, and sidewalks have been places where free speech has been allowed to thrive and survive. Clearly this ordinance is unconstitutional. ... Our clients were lawfully and peacefully picketing and they should have the right to continue to do so without harassment and interference. The Constitution protects their right to peacefully picket."

City ordinances are not the only weapons used by pro-abortion forces to suppress pro-life dissenters. In certain cases they have also invoked the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), aimed at organized crime and drug dealers. In October 2001, the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the law could be used against pro-life protestors. The Supreme Court, in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., reversed the Seventh Circuit, saying that for RICO to apply, the defendants must have been shown to have committed extortion against the abortion clinics as a "predicate act." But the protestors could not have been guilty of extortion when they extracted no property from the clinics. As Justice Rehnquist stated in his majority opinion, "But even when their acts of interference and disruption achieved their ultimate goal of 'shutting down' a clinic that performed abortions, such acts did not constitute extortion because petitioners did not 'obtain' respondents' property. Petitioners may have deprived or sought to deprive respondents of their alleged property right of exclusive control of their business assets, but they did not acquire any such property. Petitioners neither pursued nor received 'something of value from' respondents that they could exercise, transfer, or sell."

"The real story here," said Catholic League president William Donohue, "is the extraordinary disrespect that the so-called champions of liberty have for free speech. The National Organization for Women ... has proven beyond a doubt that it would use any law available as a weapon to beat down pro-life protestors."

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