Recently, I ended up in some online discussion (which I’m glad remained, at the very least, a civil discussion) with someone who was trying to say that it’s cool that Alberta, Canada is introducing ‘safe zones’ around abortion clinics but that it infringes on the anti-abortion protesters’ freedom of speech. (I can’t help but view it as a genuine conversation, rather than something related to a right-wing troll; they weren’t clinging to the typical right-wing troll tactics.)

To start, there are a number of issues with this, but the most glaringly obvious is that people (most often Americans, but sometimes other individuals) internalise United States laws as if they’re a global structure and cease to recognise that some countries have different laws and beliefs surrounding the truths that ‘we hold to be self-evident’.

To be fair, even different locations in the United States have laws that show this to be true, such as Censorship Laws and what topics are ‘banned’ or ‘excluded’ from the curricula of public education. While Congress can make no law that prohibits the free exercise or abridging of freedom of speech, it does not expressly forbid local and state governments from doing so (though we often assume it does based on some legal precedence and culturally agree it should apply at all levels of government). Many people, interestingly, also conflate this ‘right’ to be part of their ability to talk on social media (Twitter, Google, Facebook, Reddit, etc.) and purchase web-hosting. While there are arguments to be made, it’s very clear that many Americans (and people globally) mistakenly conflate private business for government, which is a continuous problem that I know I addressed long ago when I was working on a series of posts about PewDiePie.

Whew, that was a lengthy way of expressing that “This isn’t the US, and even the US isn’t precisely the US because States’ Rights.”

But in reality, the country in which this issue is happening is very clearly Canada; their laws are a lot more strict than those in the United States are towards defending offensive speech. In particular, they have a harsher legal definition of ‘hate speech’ than the US since we don’t really have an exemption for it; we do have hate crime laws, but they are far more focused on bodily harm and are really difficult to prove. Remember the Gay Panic Defense? My home state, Illinois, just now banned it as a defense for murdering someone, even though it should always have constituted a hate crime.

Having exceptions for hate speech is a good thing. However, it doesn’t exempt them from having the ironic crews of (typically white) people screaming that their rights are being taken away because they don’t have free speech without consequences (much like the lobster-in-charge, Jordan Peterson, is constantly doing). How horrible! How atrocious! You have to endure consequences for intentionally inciting hatred and trying to harm groups of people in the process? You poor baby! (Ugh.)

Anyway, here’s the comment in the thread that I found a bit obtuse, regarding threats vs. harassment:

Are they just saying that abortion is wrong and telling her that she is bad for doing it or are they threatening her? If they are threatening her then that is harassment and you should call the police to have them removed but only then can you stop them because while they may be incorrect in their thinking, they aren’t doing anything wrong. Free speech is a right that can’t be ethically limited because nothing good ever came from silencing information, thoughts, or ideas in anyway

For the record, the fact that any person is standing outside of an ‘abortion clinic’ (in reality: family planning clinic or reproductive health clinic, as they do far more than merely provide abortions) and shouting at someone about how a normal medical procedure is wrong? Is a form a violence. The fact that, while abortion is legal in Canada that it’s still difficult to get? Is a direct result of that violence. From uOttawa:

Abortion services are fully covered in Ontario, but wait times are long (up to 6 weeks in Ottawa). Only one in six hospitals in Canada offers abortions. There is a looming shortage of doctors willing to provide the service; many are approaching retirement and younger MDs are not replacing them, some out of fear of harassment and others because they have not witnessed the dangers of unsafe abortions. Hence, therapeutic abortion services may in theory be available, but they may not be accessible.

Standing outside of a family planning clinic and shouting down the people entering it — whether they are doctors or patients — directly impacts the availability of the service. No person wants to go to work and be harassed, which is only one of the many reasons why there are so few abortion providers in a lot of places. The same is also true for the country that I now live in, Italy. It is technically true that abortions are legal here (and the woman doing the English Civics Class for Immigrants that I was required by law to take was really keen on mentioning this over and over for some reason), but you’d be really hard-pressed to find somewhere that provides them because doctors are legally allowed to be ‘conscientious objectors’ (placing their so-called ‘beliefs’ over the actual life of a person) or heavily influenced to avoid doing so by a highly conservative Catholic lobby (citing ‘fear of harassment’).

So when someone tries to split hairs over “Are they saying she’s bad for doing it?” and “Are they threatening her?” The answer to both questions is yes, because by being there in the first place, they are threatening her well-being and access to necessary services to maintain her health (mental, emotional, and/or physical). These people, the ones who are standing outside legitimate family planning and reproductive health clinics like Planned Parenthood are there so often that they need to have clinic escorts to help people get inside, even if they’re not going there for an abortion. (By the way, clinic escorts are super amazing people.) These people stalk individuals online, especially clinic staff. Even if they’re there and not directly beating people up, their very existence is a form of terrorism because they are mentally abusing and manipulating people who provide or use these services. It’s a way of deterring people, scaring and terrifying them, forcing someone into your beliefs because you can’t handle them making decisions for themselves.

That, in all honesty, should be illegal. And that shouldn’t matter which country you’re in, to be quite honest.

As an anecdote, I went to a Planned Parenthood in the United States to discuss birth control methods. I was barraged with the kinds of hyper-evangelical, anti-abortion rhetoric so much in that one time that it made me, a potential patient, not want to go back. I was left with so much anxiety after that one time; I cannot fathom how the people working in clinics like Planned Parenthood are capable of dealing with that day after day. It stressed me out once. They are more than happy to harass you for “getting an abortion,” even if that isn’t why you’re there.

These are the same people who:

  • Create fake clinics (which they often call “crisis centers” or “women’s health centers”) so that they can con women into going to them and they can then manipulate their emotions, provide intentionally false information, and try to force them to not get abortions (and also feel bad for even thinking about getting one). These clinics provide nothing for any form of family support, by the way. (And they are annoyingly easy to find on Google Maps, making it harder for people to access the services they genuinely need.)
  • Not to mention that, in those clinics, they pose as medical professionals without having any of the credentials or education. This should shock no one, and it definitely explains the excess of intentionally false information.
  • Use deceptive advertising in order to get women to visit their clinic, which often showcases out-of-context information or genuinely harmful images (that also show they don’t care at all about people who miscarried or were forced to get an abortion for medical reasons — so much for being pro-life). Some companies, like Google, are trying to remove advertisements like these. Also, the Supreme Court in the US is going to be reviewing the case NIFLA vs Becerra, which is trying to challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as something that ‘infringes First Amendment rights’. I swear, these anti-abortion jerks don’t care about living people or facts. (The fact that someone is upset that they cannot intentionally mislead someone and are required to provide facts about who they are is a clear indication that they’re Not Good People.)
  • Delay people from getting an abortion, which is incredibly important as a lot of places have time limits (especially the US, which keeps shifting to shorter and shorter time limits).
  • Receive tax dollars that are funneled to them by American Republicans, even though they literally do nothing helpful at all for anyone. They also continue making ludicrous laws about clinics that provide abortions, which also have also included things as absurd as the width of doorways.

This list is severely US-heavy, but cities in Canada have been removing the same deceptive advertising, and they have also dealt with the same kinds of fake clinics. Unsurprisingly, they still see the same anti-abortion protesters outside of clinics harassing and abusing women, which they are trying to deal with by enforcing safe zones.

And the fact that any clinic needs these safe zones at all is ridiculous. The protesters who are “exercising their right to free speech” are content to continually silence those who also talk against them, terrifying them into a course of action that is deemed “acceptable” or shaming them for receiving a normal medical procedure.

If these people want to exercise their right to free speech, write a book. Make a pamphlet, create a website (but remember to host it on your own private server), whatever. But stop saying that protesting these clinics is “free speech” when it’s nothing short of harassing and shaming people for receiving a treatment that impacts their well-being.

These anti-abortion protesters are trying to game the system, and we need to stop allowing it.