Opinion

Chicago Tribune columnist misleads about pro-life bubble zone lawsuit

Silent, tape, anti-speech, planned parenthood, law, court

The Supreme Court—even its pro-abortion justices—have already taken a dim view of restricting speech and demonstration outside of abortion facilities, but Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn still thinks it’s a worthwhile enterprise.

Commenting on Pro-life Action League’s lawsuit against the city of Chicago’s “bubble zone” law prohibiting coming within eight feet of anyone moving toward an abortionist’s door (once they’re within fifty feet of it), Zorn claims pro-lifers are actually championing the practice of “dogging,” or “following people down a sidewalk like a pesky canine in an effort to communicate with them against their will.” Pro-life activists, he alleges, “insist that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech implicitly gives them a right to dog.”

Curiously, though, he offers no quotes of pro-lifers calling for any such right. Maybe that’s because quoting our actual objections to the law would have gotten in the way of his false narrative.

As Live Action News’s Danny David covered a few days ago, the suit actually argues that the law is deliberately worded to be vague and confusing, and has resulted in peaceful, non-harassing pro-life demonstrators being told, by police, that they have to stay 150 feet away from abortion facilities, cannot offer literature to anyone in the vicinity, cannot say anything within the bubble, and must stay eight feet away from people heading to the clinic outside the fifty-foot bubble.

Pro-Life Action League’s Ann Scheidler has explained:

The Chicago Police have consistently misinterpreted and misunderstood the Ordinance. Escorts recruited by the abortion clinics have either intentionally or inadvertently misstated the law and repeatedly called out the police for useless trips to the abortion clinics. With all the actual violence in our city, it has been a colossal waste of police resources to send two, three or four squad cars to the abortion clinics where peaceful pro-lifers are simply trying to exercise their first amendment right to free speech and free assembly.

Are these objections unfounded? Apparently, either Zorn doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or concedes that they aren’t, because nowhere in his column does he even mention them, let alone offer rebuttal.

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Remarkably, the entirety of his column is a straw-man. Rather than discuss the argument pro-lifers are actually making, Zorn attributes to us straw-man positions that are easier to refute (“people using their inside voices can communicate across” eight feet? Wow! Who knew?) and that caricature our intentions as fanatical:

What the protesters in Chicago don’t have, however, is the right to get up in the faces of patients (who may be coming to the clinics for other health treatments), to walk close beside them hectoring, shaming, gently suggesting or otherwise trying to convince them on the issue of abortion.

From there he drones on about what Justice John Paul Stevens had to say about dogging, and Justice Louis Brandeis on the right to be left alone. Which is all well and good, but beside the point: pro-lifers aren’t suing to so they can go dogging, no matter how matter-of-factly Zorn sneers that “we all get why anti-abortion protesters want to dog patients outside clinics,” or that the “Constitution is not offended by a prohibition on the thrusting of leaflets into unwilling hands.”

This law wasn’t needed to prevent dogging. A preliminary search finds that Illinois has a number of laws that already seem to cover verbal abuse, unwanted following, etc. If those are inadequate to punish and deter actual cases of street harassment, by all means have a conversation about how to beef them up.

But this bubble zone law didn’t do that; it simply used harassment as a pretext to harass pro-lifers, in hopes that the harassment would push away any potential influence they had on the abortion industry’s customers. Apparently that was good enough for Eric Zorn’s propaganda needs.

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