Does the ACLU Protect the First Amendment Rights of Abortion Protesters?

PRO (yes)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in its Apr. 11, 2001 press release titled "ACLU's Role in Stopping Clinic Violence," stated:

"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 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in its July 16, 2004 press release titled "ACLU Sues to Protect Free Speech Rights of Anti-Abortion Church Group in Indiana," stated:

"The Indiana Civil Liberties Union [(ICLU) ACLU of Indiana] announced today that it has filed a lawsuit to stop city officials' unconstitutional infringements on the free speech rights of a Baptist preacher and his congregation.

In its lawsuit, the ICLU charges that Pastor John Lewis and his congregants from the Old Paths Baptist Church were repeatedly threatened with arrest and/or citation by the Scottsburg Police Department for using megaphones during anti-abortion demonstrations...

In a similar case, the ICLU previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Old Paths Baptist Church last July against a Salem ordinance that would restrict public protest. The ordinance was aimed at curbing anti-abortion protests led by Pastor Lewis outside Washington County Courthouse. The ordinance required groups to apply for parade permits at least four weeks before any protest and pay a $100 application fee.

The ICLU has consistently defended the reproductive rights of women in the courts, in the Indiana General Assembly and in Congress. But the American way is to confront a contrary view, not to muzzle it."

July 16, 2004 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 

Mary Meehan, Maryland based writer and speaker, wrote in a Spring 2001 article, "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 - Mary Meehan 

Kari Andren, a reporter for the Pennsylvania-based newspaper The Patriot-News, wrote the following information in her Oct. 7, 2009 article "School Unfairly Censored T-shirt, Lawsuit Says," posted on the newspaper's website

"On the day President Barack Obama was to address students nationwide, a Crossroads Middle School student donned an anti-abortion T-shirt to protest Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.

The student wore the T-shirt, which read 'Abortion is not Healthcare,' with no disruption and no problems until his fifth-period teacher sent him to the principal's office. He was ordered to turn the shirt inside out because it might offend other students, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Valerie Burch, a staff attorney with the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the student's T-shirt represented political speech, the most protected form of speech, even inside schools.

If the district does not have a dress code that prohibits wearing T-shirts, then it has to permit this one, she said."

Oct. 7, 2009 - Kari Andren 

CON (no)

Alan Sears, JD, President, CEO, and General Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, and Craig Osten, Vice President of Presidential Communications and Research for the Alliance Defense Fund, wrote the following information in their 2005 book The ACLU vs. America:

"[T]he ACLU, the great defender of free speech, has either been silent, or has actively sought to silent the free speech rights of those who believe in and wish to advocate for the right to life...

In 1997, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of an injunction that required pro-life advocates to stay at least fifteen feet away from the entrances and driveways of abortion clinics. The injunction also provided a fifteen-foot 'bubble zone' around each woman who came to the clinic. In effect, this court order created a zone that prohibited free speech directed at pro-life advocates. The ACLU brief stated the injunction creating this zone was consistent with the First Amendment...

The ACLU also supported the use of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act against peaceful pro-life advocates who blocked access to abortion clinics. In 1994, the ACLU was in favor of legislation titled the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances or FACE. FACE bars peaceful pro-life activism such as sit-ins (which the ACLU supports on other issues). When pro-life advocates went to court to defend their First Amendment rights to protest abortion, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief against them...

[T]his silence toward, or active litigation against, the right of pro-life speech and peaceful advocacy is another example of the duplicity of the ACLU."

2005 - Craig Osten 
Alan Sears, JD 

Robyn E. Blumner, JD, former Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida and Utah, wrote in a Feb. 10, 1999 editorial titled "ACLU Backs Free Speech for All - Except Pro-Lifers," published by 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 - Robyn E. Blumner, JD 

The Catholic League, the self-proclaimed largest Catholic civil rights organization in the US, wrote the following information in its Oct. 2003 article "Censoring Prolife Speech in San Francisco," posted on its website:

"San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has voted to curtail the free-speech rights of prolife protesters... Under the new law... [protestors] must first get the consent of women seeking an abortion before exercising their free-speech rights. Mayor Willie Brown signed the censorial legislation.

This is a textbook case of how extremists operate in the US If they can't defeat their ideological adversaries in the court of public opinion, they reach for censorship. The idea that protesters must first obtain permission from those whom they seek to persuade is preposterous. That this is happening in San Francisco - home of violent pacifists - makes the story even more ironic.

Our response was to call the ACLU asking what they were going to do about it. After all, they are the champions of free speech for everyone from Nazis to child pornographers. But guess what? The ACLU has no interest in challenging this gag rule. That's because abortion rights mean infinitely more to the free speech crusaders than anything else."

Oct. 2003 - Catholic League 

Stop the ACLU, a libertarian Christian organization countering the ACLU and its policies, posted an article on its website on July 15, 2005 titled "Selective Civil Rights," which stated:

"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 [60s], and even today in the 'pro-choice' demonstrators. Every movement has [its] 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 - Stop The ACLU