Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Does the ACLU Fail to Protect the First Amendment Rights of Abortion Clinic Protesters?

PRO (yes)


Robyn E. Blumner, JD, Columnist, wrote in his Feb. 10, 1999 editorial titled “ACLU Backs Free Speech for All – Except Pro-Lifers,” for the Wall Street Journal, that:

“The right to express unpopular opinions, advocate despised ideas and display graphic images is something the ACLU has steadfastly defended… But the ACLU, a group for which I proudly worked as executive director of the Florida and Utah affiliates for more than 10 years, has developed a blind spot when it comes to defending anti-abortion protesters…

In 1995, the national ACLU joined its New York affiliate in defending an injunction against anti-abortion protesters, arguing that the imposition of a moving buffer zone that kept protesters 15 feet away from people entering and leaving abortion clinics did not violate the First Amendment.

When the issue reached the Supreme Court, three ACLU affiliates (including the Florida affiliate, where I was executive director), were so appalled by the national organization’s stance that we filed a brief opposing it… The Supreme Court agreed the floating buffer zone violated free speech and struck it down…

The clash of interests at abortion clinics is between the First Amendment rights of protesters and the government’s interest in protecting the public’s health and safety. Throughout its history, the ACLU has routinely come out on the First Amendment side of that equation. Until now, that is.”

Feb. 10, 1999


Stop the ACLU Coalition’s website posted a July 15, 2005 article titled “Selective Civil Rights”:

“The ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project has a lot to do with why the ACLU is so reluctant to defend the rights of anti-abortion protesters… Of course there are loonies in the anti-abortion movement, but that was true of the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement of the 60’s, and even today in the ‘pro-choice’ demonstrators. Every movement has it’s fringe element. But while the ACLU was right on top in defending any violations of the law for all of these movements, when it comes to the opponents of abortion having their First Amendment rights violated by the authorities, the ACLU is completely absent…

Not even having the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) thrown at anti-abortion protesters moved the ACLU into action… The ACLU would not tolerate the use of RICO against nuclear weapons dissidents, but in the case of anti-abortion protesters the matter is quite different. In fact, the ACLU has actually used the RICO against them. When pro-life demonstrators were sued under RICO in Philadelphia, the local chapter of the ACLU filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs, the Northeast Women’s Center…

In the eyes of the ACLU the First Amendment protects child molesters, perverts, and fascists, but not Pro-lifers! Quite hypocritical in my opinion.”

July 15, 2005

CON (no)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), wrote in an Apr. 11, 2001 press release titled “ACLU’s Role in Stopping Clinic violence,” that:

“Between 1977 and the end of February 2001, more than 4,200 bombings, arsons, blockades, episodes of vandalism, stalkings, assaults, and other acts of violence took place at clinics throughout the country. Stymied in their efforts to make abortion illegal again, some anti-choice extremists resorted to murder as the ultimate weapon in the ‘war’ they claim to be waging…

Anti-choice activists, like those espousing any cause, are properly protected by the First Amendment when they speak, march, demonstrate, pray, display images, or associate with others in these activities. Their expression may be harsh, unsettling, and offensive and still be protected by the First Amendment.

But protesters may not physically obstruct others from exercising their rights, threaten doctors’ lives in an effort to scare them away from abortion practice, nor break the bounds of peaceful expression and assembly. The First Amendment does not protect people when they turn to shooting doctors, kidnapping clinic staff, destroying medical equipment, planting bombs, setting fire to clinics, threatening violence, or blockading clinic entrances. The Constitution does not — and never has — provided immunity to vigilantes.”

Apr. 11, 2001


The ACLU wrote in its Fall 2002 press release titled “Free Speech or True Threats,” written by Jann Carson, that:

“[The] ACLU has urged the courts to adopt a two-part test for defining ‘true threats,’ arguing that a court or jury must find both that a ‘reasonable person’ who was the target of an alleged threat would be placed in fear, and that the speaker intended to create that fear. ACLU strongly believes this test is necessary to afford the greatest protection to free speech, especially political speech that is often harsh and mean-spirited. At the same time, the First Amendment may not be used as a shield by those who engage in acts of violence or issue threats of violence.”

Fall 2002


Mary Meehan wrote in her Spring 2001 article titled “ACLU v. Unborn Children,” for Human Life Review, that:

“The First Amendment has been an ACLU byword from the organization’s inception, and some ACLU affiliates have stoutly defended the free-speech rights of abortion foes…

A Michigan abortion clinic won a restraining order to keep picketers and leafleters 500 feet away from its building, but the local ACLU went to court for the demonstrators and got the order thrown out. In Tacoma, Washington, when a clinic obtained an injunction forbidding picketers to refer to killers or murderers, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the demonstrators. The ACLU has also supported protestors’ right to picket homes of abortion doctors.”

Spring 2001