Imagine if Republican Gov. Scott Walker spearheaded a gag rule that banned teacher unions from approaching someone to “leaflet” or “educate” them on the public sidewalk within a block of the Square.

And imagine Gov. Walker justified his support for the law based on his belief the Capitol must be “a more comfortable place for people to approach,” and that a gag rule “balances” speech by banning “harassment” (defined as leafleting and education) all the way back to a visitor’s parking space or bus stop.

Madison would be enraged. The ACLU would file lawsuits, and every liberal group in the state would defend freedom of speech. Madison would again issue statements praising anyone who is “peacefully assembled to exercise democracy and First Amendment rights.” Except they would be hypocrites.

Madison is poised to enact this sort of gag rule on the speech of pro-life people who leaflet and educate outside abortion and health facilities. The proposal breezed through two committees last week.

The vanguards of freedom in Madison are not silent on this gag rule. They support it.

The ordinance making its way to the Madison City Council is sponsored by Ald. Lisa Subeck, former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, and has 14 co-sponsors. Subeck says it “balances” free speech by banning leafleting and education within 8 feet of people all the way back to their “bus stops.”

Wendi Kent, president of the Madison chapter of the National Organization for Women, minimizes the rule’s attack on speech by saying it will merely “make a health care facility a more comfortable place for people to approach. I don’t see how anybody could argue with that.”

And the ACLU has “evolved” when it comes to freedom of speech for people with whom they disagree. Just 15 years ago, the ACLU filed a brief declaring a Colorado law similar to Subeck’s “cannot be sustained” constitutionally because it “focuses directly on expressive activities” of pro-life advocates. But the ACLU recently filed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold gag rules and speech bans near abortion facilities (McCullen case).It seems that some have altered a famous freedom war cry: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will put to the death your right to say it.”

Unfortunately, such hypocrisy is typical of many “liberal” activists, who upon attaining power no longer see freedom as being in their best interests. So brace yourself for a flood of editorial euphemisms supporting Madison’s proposed gag rule, insisting free speech needs to be “balanced” (meaning trumped) by the absolute right to “feel comfortable” about abortion.

These same people would never defend a ban on leafleting and education within 8 feet of people walking toward the Square. No advocate of freedom can defend Madison’s pro-abortion gag rule on its own terms.

My group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, is a sponsor of the U.S. Supreme Court challengers in McCullen. We won a lawsuit against a gag rule enacted against pro-lifers in Pittsburgh. We collected almost $500,000 in attorneys fees from UW-Madison after it violated the freedom of speech of the student group Badger Catholic. And we’re on the side of free speech in Madison, whatever contortions the bill’s supporters twist into it to justify the city’s attack on free speech.

Bowman, of Washington, D.C., is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which advocates for free expression of faith.

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(42) comments

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

NotACynic - 10 hours ago
So what's changing for you, then?


This is the disturbing part. If this regulation is not changing anything, then there is no need to discuss or pass a new law.

Lisa Subeck's bosses at Planned Parenthood and NARAL want us silenced and removed far away from the location. When we first heard about this bubble zone, it was rumored to be 160 feet! Now we see 8 feet? I suspect that this regulation is not what it seems.

We know that this type of regulation is already being heard as a First Amendment case by the Supreme Court. Madison Council knows this, and is delaying their vote until they find out if the Supreme Court will even allow it!

Our point is that this regulation is not needed in Madison. It is a move to secure the profits of Planned Parenthood against the free charity of Madison citizens. The frightened women who are coerced by brutal boyfriends, parents and employers are the ones who will suffer, because we will not be able to offer help to them in their time of need. Just to protect Lisa Subeck's corporate employers.

NotACynic
NotACynic

Nothing is changing if you're already being respectful of others' rights. Apparently not everyone is willing to do that. Nothing at all is changing for me. I have no dog in this fight, just an appreciation for civil society, which is based on respect for the rights of others.

What you see with this eight feet is a more than reasonable COMPROMISE. I'm not surprised that there are people who want you all to go away all together but they haven't gotten that. Have they?

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

I don't know. Like Pelosi said about the ACA, we won't really know how they intend to enforce this law until they pass it.

At the present, we cannot get within conversational distance unless the client approaches us. So we don't know why Lisa Subeck thinks this law is needed.

We do know that Planned Parenthood wants us to disappear. That is the goal of Lisa Subeck's employer.

NotACynic
NotACynic

That's not really that close to what Pelosi said but this ordinance seems pretty cut and dry. Stay back eight feet. The end.

I'm sure a lot of people want you to 'disappear.' Be glad that they can't make you, I guess. If they can live with this so can you. If they feel like they can't then we'll see what comes next. Maybe I'll be on your side in the next battle but in this one not even close.

WeNeedaDream
WeNeedaDream

I wonder if focusing on respecting 'rights' might distract from respecting 'people'.

NotACynic
NotACynic

Which people do you have in mind? Would these be the unborn 'people' who have no legal status as such? See, there's you're problem, right there. You won't accept current law. (Try to get it changed, if you want.)

I try to sympathize with your position but I don't share it and when I see such disregard for the way anyone else feels, people who are legally in the right, coming from so-called 'pro-lifers' I lose any sympathy I once had.

WeNeedaDream
WeNeedaDream

I get queasy reading these comments...
feeling the energies behind them...
all with wonderful intentions about protecting or respecting life, rights, people, etc.

I'd like to explore more life-serving ways of doing this...
beyond blaming, bashing, bullying, etc...
e.g. http://cnvc.org, http://drdonnahicks.com, http://weneedadream.org/independence.htm


WeNeedaDream
WeNeedaDream

Even non-verbal judgment can feel toxic or terrifying to sensitive or scared souls...
blocking connection and communication.

WeNeedaDream
WeNeedaDream

I'm also uncomfortable being told what I or others "should" do, think, feel, or be...
whether by words, laws, thoughts, or scripture.

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

As an American, you have the right to feel uncomfortable.

That is the point of Freedom of Speech -- we all have the freedom to say and to hear things that challenge us to think about our actions.

Oscar
Oscar

I had the unfortunate experience to have a hearing test in the same building as the abortion clinic. There were posted signs everywhere proclaiming that the area was private property. I could not access the hearing clinic directly as everyone was routed through a reception floor first. There, it appears that anyone not having official business gets weeded out. There were one-way locked doors keeping people out. I have watched news footage of the anti-abortion folks hounding the women going to the clinic. In this day and age, the anti-abortion folks can advertise in newspapers, television, phone books. They can have phone apps and websites. I think that 8 feet is too short. I would defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights to the death. Those seeking abortion have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They should be able to be free from being touched, being handed offensive literature and being screamed at . It would appear that in this time of limited human interaction, acceptable distances need to be increased.

Elizabeth D
Elizabeth D

Thank you for what you do, Matt Bowman! The proposed ordinance blatantly seeks to exclude pro life volunteers from offering knowledge, alternatives and human kindness to women approaching abortion clinics. Abortion harms women: most of us know this on some level, but many women realize the deep personal impact on themselves as mothers of now-dead babies with enormous anguish after they've gone through with it. That's why there are Rachel's Vineyard post-abortive healing retreats, which pro life volunteers are also able to tell women about. These retreats are free. So are the services at local nonprofit pregnancy help centers like the Women's Care Center and CareNet, to help women choose life for their baby and give them support they need. Prayerful pro life volunteers offer women assurances that they deserve better than abortion, and offer alternatives and avenues of getting help. Planned Parenthood makes $$$$$ from terminating pregnancies, they do not want the alternatives explained and advertised to pregnant moms approaching their business. Shame on Madison for proposing this restriction of free speech on public property. Thank you Alliance Defending Freedom!

NotACynic
NotACynic

"The proposed ordinance blatantly seeks to exclude pro life volunteers from offering knowledge, alternatives and human kindness to women approaching abortion clinics."

It does no such thing. It merely insists that they RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS ...

RutledgeStBlues
RutledgeStBlues

Which Right is that?

NotACynic
NotACynic

The right to be free from harassment. This isn't new 'information' these 'vigil keepers' are trying to 'present.' Everybody knows what you're selling. If anybody wants to buy it, how about THEY contact YOU?

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

We used to have the right to offer help and show charity, and we hope that this right will remain. We never disrespect the clients or workers of Planned Parenthood.

Come and see for yourself. Orin Road.

NotACynic
NotACynic

You still have that right. From a very short distance.

G Gordon
G Gordon

Oh, the irony of the anti-abortion extremists trying to make an argument that they have the Constitutional right to physically obstruct women from seeking the medical care that the US Supreme Court has determined that women have the Constitutional right to obtain.

Did Matt Bowman and his band of terrorists run out of cookie-selling girl scouts to harass?

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

We are very conscientious about never blocking anyone from the sidewalk or the driveways. It is illegal to block the public throughways, just as it is illegal to step onto their private property.

Your portrayal of pro-lifers is decades out of date. 40 years ago, early pro-life activists did attempt to lock themselves to doors and civil disobedience like that. They quickly realized that such threatening tactics did not change hearts nor help women. It is much better to offer the love and help that women need, so they can make a real choice without being pressured by abortion profiteers.

Abortion hurts women. That is why so many sidewalk counsellors are women who have had abortions before. They want to help other women avoid what they have suffered.

crdaniels
crdaniels

The difference is intimidation. Protesters lining up outside of medical facilities prevent women from getting the care they need, whether it be for abortions, family planning, or well-women visits. What are protesters in the capitol preventing others from doing? No one is stoping pro-life/anti-abortion people from getting their word out, just allowing women to go to the doctor with out being attacked at the doors.

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

There is no intimidate. No attacks. No prevention of access, no blocking of sidewalks, no anger.

We are there to offer free help to anyone who needs it. Long-term help, pre-natal healthcare, shelter from abuse, post-birth childcare & education, post-abortive care... everything that Planned Parenthood does not provide.

I once helped a young woman whom I met on the sidewalk. She needed a job, but she didn't have a way to get to job interviews. So I gave her an old beater that I was about to sell for scrap, for free.

This sort of neighborly generosity is what this law is designed to prevent -- For just one reason: When we help a woman, Planned Parenthood doesn't get paid.

This is a vote against choice and women and freedom. It is a vote for increasing corporate profits for the clients of Alderwoman Lisa Subeck .

You accuse the pro-life counsellors of all sorts of behaviors that you will never see with your own eyes in Madison. Come to the sidewalk and see for yourselves.

crdaniels
crdaniels

Despite your good intentions, simply being present protesting Planned Parenthood would intimate many people, let alone approaching them. I completely support your and everyone else's right to speak their mind and to spread information. This ordinance does not prevent you from giving your information out or helping people, it allows women to decide if they want to talk to you or not. If you are offering up free cars I'm sure eight feet won't deter anyone.

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

Come to the sidewalk at Orin Road. See for yourself.

The accusations of harassment and intimidation are utterly false. Lies. We are not intimidating. We persuade women to accept our help by loving them! Being loud and scary doesn't change any hearts.

Come and see that Madison City Council has no reason to violate the First Amendment or to single us out for special persecution.

Come! The weather should be very nice for the next few days. Come and talk with us. Know the truth for yourselves.

NotACynic
NotACynic

It sounds like you'll still be able to do what you do. You can still be heard from eight feet away.

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

We shall see. Most conversations already start from greater than 8 feet away.... customers pull into the parking lot where we do not go, and they are several yards away when we greet them. We respect the rule that forbids us from stepping onto Planned Parenthood's private property.

I don't understand the geometry of this unnecessary law. For example, since the sidewalk is only 4 feet wide and we must stay 8 feet away, does this effectively mean that we have to stand in the street?

I can only imagine that the law means to prevent us from saying "hello" to anyone. Nothing else would satisfy Planned Parenthood and the alderpersons whom they own. "Eight feet" sounds like a simple rule, but the reality means something much worse.

They mean to move us off of the public sidewalk, because we are speaking in public.

NotACynic
NotACynic

Well tell us what it 'really means' then so we can discuss that. Also tell us how you became aware of this hidden meaning.

RutledgeStBlues
RutledgeStBlues

The Constitution guarantees freedom FROM quartering of soldiers and unreasonable search and seizure. You are not free FROM religion nor are you free FROM other's free speech. Freedom OF does not come at the expense of another's rights, while freedom FROM certainly can as we see here. It's your right to ignore them and have your own say

NotACynic
NotACynic

The Court has ruled on many occasions that people have various privacy rights. Including the right to not be compelled to be an audience. No one is saying these 'vigil keepers' can't speak. Just that they can't force themselves on anyone.

RutledgeStBlues
RutledgeStBlues

Seems like youre the right person to decide which is which.

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

We never force ourselves on anyone. We invite them to conversation as they enter the parking lot. We are very easy to ignore, if the client wishes to do so. It is as easy as turning one's head away.

NotACynic
NotACynic

So what's changing for you, then?

DelWisconsin
DelWisconsin

This is what happens when corporate lobbyists get themselves elected to ruling boards. They continue to work for the benefit of their corporate sponsors.

The sidewalk counselors and vigil keepers are peaceful and non-disruptive. A few times each month, we are able to help a woman or couple who are desperate and trapped and need assistance to keep a child they do not want to kill. Planned Parenthood does not provide this help. We can offer women a real choice.

The vigil keepers are often called "protesters." This is not accurate. We are not angry. We do not yell or harass. We are mostly silent, and always smiling. Many of us have lost children to abortion, and we are generous in helping others to avoid the pain that we carry. We share information about counseling and healing with women who have abortions. Planned Parenthood does not offer this help, either.

The Madison Board has already made up their mind. They are waiting to see if the Supreme Court strikes down similar laws in Massachusetts. This is how close Madison is to violating the First Amendment, just to protect the profits of the abortion industry.

NotACynic
NotACynic

Well if you're not there to harass and obstruct then a little space shouldn't be a problem. They're talking about eight feet. Two people facing each other at eight feet can take two short steps and be touching. Shaking hands, hugging even. If that's not close enough to offer whatever it is you're offering then there's one reason. The person ISN'T INTERESTED! And she has that right.

NotACynic
NotACynic

http://dontbelieveverything.blogspot.com/2014/02/latest-letter-sent-just-now.html

Comment deleted.
Punknow
Punknow

Amen

Punknow
Punknow

Glad to see this article in WSJ. A rare breath of fresh air in a media usually run amok by leftists bent on silencing ANY opposition.

NotACynic
NotACynic

There's a difference between a right to speak and a right to force someone to listen.

jimri
jimri

So, the leftists handing out leaflets is free speech, but pro-life demonstrateos handing out leaflets is forcing people to listen.. Now I get it.

Punknow
Punknow

Read what jimri wrote and think about it…please.

NotACynic
NotACynic

Something about 'leftists'? I didn't waste my time.

Norby
Norby

Good point!!

NotACynic
NotACynic

Something about 'leftists'? I didn't waste my time.

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