Below is my column in The Hill on a shift in the rhetoric in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. From politicians to pundits, pro-life positions are being treated as virtual hate speech. The demonization of those with pro-life views is meant to cut off any debate on the basis or scope of abortion rights. It is the latest attack on free speech as critics seek to silence those with opposing views.
Here is the column:
With the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, it is no longer enough to be pro-choice. Indeed, the term “pro-choice” has been declared harmful by the now ironically named “Pro-Choice Caucus.” Today, it seems you must be anti-pro-life to be truly pro-choice — and, across the country, pro-life viewpoints are being declared virtual hate speech.
We have seen this pattern before.
With the rise of the racial justice movement on campuses across the country in 2020, a mantra emerged that it was no longer enough to not be a racist, you must be anti-racist. As National Public Radio’s media critic explained, “you’ve got to be continually working towards equality for all races, striving to undo racism in your mind, your personal environment and the wider world.”
Similarly, after the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it seems, you must be anti-pro-life and stop others from voicing their views.
On Sunday, almost half of the University of Michigan’s incoming medical school class walked out of a “White Coat Ceremony” to protest keynote speaker Dr. Kristin Collier. Collier was not planning to discuss abortion, but — because she holds pro-life views — students launched an unsuccessful campaign to block her from speaking.
The cancel-campaign petition had the usual nod to free speech before calling for it to be gutted. According to the Michigan Daily, the petition — signed by hundreds of incoming, current and past students — declared that “while we support the rights of freedom of speech and religion, an anti-choice speaker as a representative of the University of Michigan undermines the University’s position on abortion and supports the non-universal, theology-rooted platform to restrict abortion access, an essential part of medical care.” In other words: We support a diversity of viewpoints so long as we don’t have to hear any opposing views.
Ironically, until four years ago, Collier was “a pro-choice atheist” who admitted that she had “great animosity towards those who held either pro-life views or deeply held religious commitments.” When she held those views, she was a celebrated professor with a long line of publications in peer-reviewed journals. She then had a conversion on the issue after speaking with a senior faculty colleague, Dr. William Chavey, a professor of family medicine who was pro-life — and she quickly became persona non grata.
Harbaugh is accustomed to penalty calls for unnecessary roughness on the field, but nothing likely prepared him for what came next. While he is widely known to be a devout Catholic, his public statement of his values was considered an outrage by some and made his continuation as coach unacceptable to them, even though he just signed a five-year, $36.7 million contract.
In addition to calls for his termination, Harbaugh was accused of being “full of deep seething hatred of women” and “publicly expressing his distaste for women’s rights.” The liberal Palmer Report posted (with thousands of “likes”) that “no one who actively attempts to deny women their most basic rights should ever be allowed to hold a position of influence at a public university … He’s a public employee. Fire his ass.”
Actually, being a public employee is one reason Harbaugh was not fired. As a public university, Michigan is subject to the full weight of the First Amendment.
Many others are not protected like Harbaugh, however. Some pro-life workers face long, hard fights against companies eager to satisfy pro-choice advocates. In 2017, Charlene Carter, a former Southwest Airlines flight attendant, was fired for posting criticism of the Transportation Workers Union of America (TWU) and its president, Audrey Stone, for their pro-choice positions. Southwest allegedly told Carter that Stone and the union contacted the company and cited her comments as threatening or harassing; Southwest then fired her. Five years later, this month, she was awarded more than $5 million for her wrongful termination.
There is an obvious effort to portray pro-life views as inherently threatening, making most any countermeasures justified. Recently, some pro-life centers and churches have been attacked. Even some crisis pregnancy centers, offering support to pregnant women and alternatives to abortion, have been denounced as a threat to women. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has declared that “crisis pregnancy centers … are there to fool people who are looking for pregnancy termination help. … We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts, and we need to shut them down all around the country. You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that.”
Sen. Warren, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and other Democrats in Congress have sponsored a bill that would shut such centers and hit charities with fines of $100,000 or “50 percent of the revenues earned by the ultimate parent entity” for violating the act’s “prohibition on disinformation” related to abortion.
Similar crackdowns are being pushed by some Democratic governors. Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) vetoed $20 million in funding for groups and advertising offering non-abortion resources and counseling. Such counseling efforts were denounced as “deceptive” attempts to “prey” on women.
While some activists have previously argued that pro-life views or advertisements like “abortion hurts women” constitute “hate speech,” the Supreme Court has refused to allow such laws as the Ku Klux Klan Act to be used against abortion protesters as being motivated by a “class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus.”
Demonizing pro-life viewpoints avoids the need to deal with abortion’s details. While a majority today support Roe, an even greater number support limits on abortion. A recent poll conducted by Harvard found that 72 percent of Americans would allow abortion only until the 15th week of pregnancy or support an even more restrictive law. That view transcends party affiliation; even 60 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be prohibited after the 15th week or a more restrictive limit.
Yet, clearly, some do not want to have a debate of the issue while pushing virtually absolute rights to abortion. It is far easier to attack those who voice pro-life views as monolithic, “theology-rooted” extremists. One benefit in being anti-pro-life is that you can be anti-free-speech — all in the name of being pro-choice.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.