Your Freedom to Swing Your Arm Ends at My Nose

I’ve been stewing over yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in McCullen v. Coakley. Even though I am a 1st Amendment purist, and the decision was unanimous, it just doesn’t sit right with me.

First of all, there’s the fact that while this decision, ideally, will apply very narrowly to people outside of women’s clinics who just want to talk quietly, I cannot see how protesters will not take it as permission to get up in the faces of women to call them names and otherwise harass them. First Amendment rights, bitch!

Second of all — and this is really what I cannot wrap my head around — the Court is basically valuing another person’s First Amendment right over a woman’s right to privacy and healthcare. And I just can’t accept that.

Here is someone who said it much better than I:

“The issue is not mainly, … the maintenance of public safety. Most abortion protesters are not violent, and police will be present to protect the visitors to the clinic. The issue is the privacy, anxiety, and embarrassment of the abortion clinic’s patients—interests that outweigh, in my judgment anyway, the negligible contribution that abortion protesters make to the marketplace of ideas and opinions.”

Richard Posner, source here

Never mind embarrassment. Women should not be embarrassed to seek and receive healthcare and medical procedures.

Imagine being a college-aged woman who is discovering sexual intercourse for the first time. Imagine deciding, somewhat nervously, that you want to avail yourself of a gynecological screening and possibly discuss birth control options. You know there’s a Planned Parenthood a bus ride away, so you decide that’s where you’re going to go.

Imagine getting off the bus and having no choice but to walk through a gauntlet of pro-life men and women with signs. You just want to keep your head down, fine. You aren’t getting an abortion; these people have nothing to do with you.

Now imagine that one of these women, a grandmotherly type with a sweet smile, comes directly up to you. She says, kindly, “What are you here for today, dearie?”

I would want to push her away from me. It is NONE OF HER FUCKING BUSINESS why I am at Planned Parenthood. I could be getting an abortion, sure; I’m not ignorant, I know they do them there. I could be picking up condoms, getting a pap smear, or meeting my friend who had an abortion to get her home safely. I could be bringing coffee to my hypothetical boyfriend, who maybe works as an escort.

But I don’t have to tell this woman any of that. It’s none of her business.

So I say, “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t have to tell you why I’m here.”

How many self-possessed 20-year-olds do you know, who will stand their ground and tell an older woman to mind her own beeswax?

So, now, how does this SCOTUS decision play out? Do we think Granny smiles kindly again and steps away? Or do we think she insists on talking about abortion? Do we think another pro-life protester, noticing this college-age woman trying to shut Granny down, is going to stand passively by? Or do we think it’s more likely that he’s going to start yelling epithets because he has first Amendment rights, dammit, and no cheeky co-ed is going to stop him from sharing his opinion?

I mean, we see the problem here, don’t we? Pro-life or pro-choice, we see the conflict between privacy and free speech? Or are Richard Posner and I lone voices in the wilderness? (I did not follow the case closely enough to know if this was part of oral arguments.)

Women have a right to healthcare, even cheeky college co-eds.

One of the reasons I am for freedom of speech in almost every case is because, generally, there is a measure of control over what I choose to consume. I don’t have to watch a show hosted by someone who has expressed racist or sexist views I find abhorrent. I don’t have to buy Hustler magazine, or otherwise let it into my home.

I also favor free speech because of the slippery slope argument: If we let government decide who gets to talk when, it’s just a matter of time before it decides to censor speech we agree with. This is why, as distasteful as I find the views of Westboro Church, I understand the Supreme Court ruling in favor of them being allowed to have their say. Same thing with my city and country music: the fans may leave a mess (and we do have to solve this problem), but the city can’t say country music can’t play here anymore.

But if I want to avail myself of healthcare, and I don’t have a car, and I don’t have a lot of money, and don’t have employer-provided healthcare… what are my options? What do I get to choose? I want to be proactive, and prevent disease, prevent an unwanted pregnancy — prevent an abortion. Do I get harassed no matter my intentions? Sure, it’s easy enough to say, I’m not here for that.

But even if I were, it’s none of their business, First Amendment or not.

What do you think? First Amendment trumps all? That seems to be the Court’s feeling these days.