Tag Archives: compelled speech

Abortion, Free Speech And Crime

It turns out there really is no such thing as a “single issue.” Life and reality are complicated. And inter-related.

Leave aside, for purposes of today’s discussion, the inconvenient historical research confirming that the real impetus of the “pro-life” movement was the desire to protect segregation, not fetuses. Leave aside also the breathtaking hypocrisy of people who obsess over those “unborn babies” but are entirely unconcerned about toddlers in cages at the border, the children drinking unsafe water in Flint and elsewhere, the children without enough to eat….Etc.

Let’s just talk about those dots we Americans don’t like to connect.

Let’s begin with free speech. Almost everyone claims to be a staunch believer in free speech–until, of course, someone is saying something with which they disagree, or even worse, fails to say something we want them to say. In North Dakota, lawmakers have passed a law to “protect the unborn” by requiring doctors to lie to their patients.

That was a bridge too far even for the famously timid and nonpolitical American Medical Association.

One of America’s leading medical organizations has filed a lawsuit to block a North Dakota abortion law requiring doctors to tell women that a medication-induced abortion can be “reversed,” an assertion medical experts say is scientifically unsound.

The American Medical Association has joined the Red River Women’s Clinic, the last abortion facility in the state, and its medical director, Kathryn Eggleston, to argue that the law violates doctors’ constitutional right to free speech by forcing them to lie to patients. The plaintiffs also contest an existing provisionin North Dakota law that requires a doctor to tell a woman that the abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” a statement they argue is ideologically biased and “forces physicians to act as the mouthpiece of the state.”

It’s the second time this year the AMA has sued over an abortion-related issue. In March, the organization filed a lawsuit in Oregon over a provision in the Trump administration’s new rules for the federal family planning program–rules that would, among other things, ban doctors and other health professionals from referring pregnant patients for abortions.

I can’t help wondering why we haven’t heard from all those opponents of national health care who are terrified of government control over their medical providers.

It isn’t just that efforts to deny women personal autonomy require intrusions–infringements–of other constitutional liberties. There are equally inconvenient sociological “dots” to connect as well.

Crime rates in the U.S. have fallen by about halfsince the early 1990s. A new working paperfrom the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that legalized abortion following the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 accounts for 45% of the decline in crime rates over the past three decades.

The paper’s authors, Stanford University economist John Donohueand University of Chicago economist Steve Levitt, take new data and run nearly the same model they used in their influential — and controversial — 2001 analysispublished in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, where they first suggested an association between abortion and crime.

In the 2001 paper, they found that legalized abortion appeared to account for up to half of the drop in rates of violent crime and property crime to that point. They also predicted crime would fall an additional 20% over the next two decades. Levitt featured the research in the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics. The new paper also looks at violent crime and property crime.

When you think about it–assuming you do think about it– it makes sense. As the authors put it, “unwanted children are at an elevated risk for less favorable life outcomes on multiple dimensions, including criminal involvement, and the legalization of abortion appears to have dramatically reduced the number of unwanted births.”

The authors examine crime in states that legalized abortion before Roe; crime in states with high and low abortion rates after Roe; differences in crime patterns in states among people born before and after Roe; and differences in arrest rates within states among people born before and after Roe.

If we really wanted to reduce the number of abortions, we would create a society that supported women and nurtured children–a society in which birth control was easily obtainable and babies were not additional, resented burdens to impoverished mothers.

But that might require connecting some dots……

 

Confirmation: It Isn’t About Religion

The Indianapolis Star, in one of its increasingly rare forays into what used to be called “news,” reported on a very interesting study investigating popular opinion about the pending Supreme Court case brought by a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

As most of you are aware, the baker–routinely described as very pious–has argued that forcing him to sell one of his cakes to a same-sex couples would not only violate his religious liberty, but would amount to “compelled speech.” That is, he argues that civil rights laws requiring him to do business with people he considers immoral are really compelling him to affirm his approval of that immorality.

The free speech argument appears to be a fallback, in case the Supreme Court doesn’t buy the religious liberty one. In any event, most people who are aware of the controversy see the conflict as one pitting respect for “sincere religious belief” against the rights of LGBTQ citizens to be free of discrimination.

As the study found, it really isn’t.

I vividly recall a conversation I had many years ago with a friend I knew to be a truly nice person. He wasn’t a bigot. I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU at the time, and he understood the organization to be a defender of individual liberty and the proposition that the power of government (and popular majorities) to prescribe our behaviors is limited by the Bill of Rights.

He wanted to know why the ACLU didn’t think civil rights laws violated individual liberty.  Doesn’t “freedom” include the freedom to discriminate?

The study cited by the Star confirms the continued salience of his long-ago question.

People who believe businesses should be able to deny services to same-sex couples aren’t necessarily citing religious reasons for discriminating, a new study by Indiana University sociologists has found.

Instead, many simply believe businesses should be able to deny services to whomever they want — even though that violates civil rights laws that protect certain classes of people….

Slightly more than half of those surveyed said they supported a business denying wedding services to a same-sex couple, whether the business cited religious opposition to same-sex marriage or non-religious reasons.

Ninety percent of self-identified Republicans said that businesses should be able to choose who they do business with.

I’ve been in these discussions, and more often than not, people who believe civil rights laws deprive them of their liberty will say something like: “what about those signs that say ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service?” or “the government shouldn’t make the kosher butcher sell ham,” or “what if a Nazi asked the baker for a swastika cake?”

I will restrain myself from launching into one of my “civic ignorance” diatribes, and merely point out that civil rights laws do not deprive merchants of their liberty to refuse service based upon a customer’s behavior. Merchants also retain the liberty to decide what goods they will sell (if a menswear store refuses to stock dresses for sale to a female customer, that doesn’t violate anyone’s civil rights.)

Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination based upon the identity of customers who are members of legally specified classes. (FYI: Nazis aren’t a protected class.)

Do those laws curtail a merchant’s “liberty” to discriminate? Yes. So do laws prohibiting religious parents from “whipping the devil” out of their children, and a variety of other “sincere” behaviors deemed damaging or dangerous to society.

Here’s the deal–the “social contract.”

When a merchant opens a shop on a public street, he depends upon local police and firefighters to protect his property. He depends upon government to maintain the streets and sidewalks that allow customers to access his store, and the roads, railways and air lanes that carry his merchandise from the manufacturer to his shelves. In return for those and other public services that make it possible for him to conduct his business, government expects him to pay his taxes, and obey applicable laws–including civil rights laws that protect historically marginalized groups against his disdain.

The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker retain their liberty to advertise that disdain. They retain the liberty to lobby for repeal of civil rights laws. They retain the right to exclude people they consider immoral or unpleasant or just “different” from their social gatherings, their churches and their homes.

As I’ve often said, if you don’t like gay people, you don’t have to invite them to dinner. You just have to take their money when it’s proffered in a commercial transaction.Is that really an intolerable invasion of your liberty?

Who’s Talking?

As long as we’re on the subject of First Amendment Free Speech rights, a federal judge has just handed down a decision that illuminates another aspect of those rights.

As I explained yesterday, our right to free expression is protected against government interference. Usually we think of that interference in terms of censorship, of government shutting us down. But this judge’s decision–which rests on decades of settled law–reminds us of another thing government cannot constitutionally do: it cannot compel our speech, either.

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Friday struck down a 2011 North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and explain it to a woman before having an abortion, arguing it violated the constitutional right to free speech of doctors.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles found that a state does not have “the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state’s ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term.”

If the right to free speech means anything, it means that we have a right to form our own opinions, based on the widest possible access to information, and to share those opinions with others, or not, as we see fit.

Being forced to recite a script and pretend it represents our own views, like being forced to affirm allegiance to a deity or a nation (see Barnett v. West Virginia Board of Education), isn’t just intellectually dishonest; it violates our most fundamental liberties.

Compelled speech is especially pernicious when it intrudes upon the doctor/patient relationship, which depends to a great extent upon the patient’s ability to rely upon the candor of her provider–to trust that her doctor is acting in her best interests.

The principle extends well beyond medical advice, however. If the government could tell professionals of any sort what to say, if lawmakers could impose “correct” communication on scientists, police officers, media figures… how would Americans ever be able to trust anyone?

How would we know who is really talking?