Clinic Wars

A political cartoon shows an abortion protester being dragged away by police officers. "Wait!" the protester shouts. He points to a nearby group of protesters carrying signs in front of the clinic. "Those people are obstructing access to the clinic, too," he says. "Why aren't you arresting them?" "That's easy," a cop responds. "They're involved in a wage dispute." And they drag the man off. The cartoon illustrates the injustice in the so-called clinic access bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The bill singles out prolife protesters for punishment, while leaving other protesters free to pursue the same tactics. In the cartoon, two groups of people-abortion protesters and striking employees-were both carrying signs, both keeping people out of the clinic. Yet only one group was stopped by the police. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that will be encoded into law by the clinic access bill. The bill will make it a federal crime to "physically obstruct" the entrance to an abortion clinic, and it will impose heavy fines and jail terms on offenders. Ironically, as prison terms for violent crimes grow shorter, people who protest abortion may spend more time behind bars than rapists and murderers. In fact, ironies abound on this issue. The clinic access bill will soon land on the desk of President Clinton, who spent much of his youth as a protester himself against the Vietnam War. If he signs the bill, it will become clear that the issue is not really the right to protest but the content of the protest. Think about it: For years, animal-rights activists have broken into laboratories and destroyed research equipment. For years, environmental activists have tried to stop logging and mining. For years, anti-nuclear protesters have held up the construction of nuclear power plants. Yet there are no bills designed to curb these groups. Clearly, when it comes to free speech rights, some activists are more equal than others. Remember the story of Joan Andrews. Joan was sent to a maximum-security prison for participating in a nonviolent protest at an abortion clinic. The prosecutor asked the judge for a one-year prison sentence, far more time than most protesters receive. But the judge shocked everyone by sentencing Joan to five years behind bars. Apparently that was one year for civil disobedience-and another four years for offending the political ideology of the judge. The same attitude underlies the clinic access bill, with its skewed attack on prolifers. It's not wrong to punish people who commit civil disobedience. The term itself means activists are willfully transgressing the law for the sake of a cause. But let's make sure the punishment is evenhanded. A friend of mine recently said to me, "You Christians are paranoid, you're always claiming that people are discriminating against you." But now I have a response to give him: The claim is true. Socially conservative Christians are the only group in America today being denied the right to protest. Saving the unborn has been defined as a crime.


Chuck Colson


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