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Saying and shouting what they like… August 12, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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A letter to the IT some while back offered this analysis on safe access zones within 100m of facilities providing abortion. Let’s just say the correspondent wasn’t in favour of this due to the freedom of speech ramifications.

This, we are told, is to protect the women attending these facilities from comments from anti-abortion campaigners. Regardless of one’s opinion on this matter, it seems to me that this Government is proposing a law that will limit freedom of association and freedom of speech for certain groups, based solely on their political opinions.

And:

Everyone in this country who values freedom should ponder the ramifications of this proposal. All of us should ask ourselves which freedom that we approve of will be the next to be curtailed or removed.

Many will heartily agree with this measure as some of the speech women may be subjected to will be upsetting and hurtful, but that is precisely the type of speech that must be protected.

And:

Nice words and agreeable statements don’t need to be protected; it is speech that is upsetting and with which we vehemently disagree that must be protected, because most or all of us will have opinions that others will oppose.

Do you want your right to express your opinion to be curtailed simply because a person or a group of people don’t like it?

And the letter concludes by asserting that this is a slippery slope and that governments take freedoms easily but are not so quick to grant them. Oddly it is conservatives who sometimes complain otherwise – at least in relation to certain rights, those pertaining to social and similar issues, even if the government taking rights argument often predominates. But be that as it may. 

To me the basic flaw is more or less that same as that offered on here at times by those who have trolled the site, particularly back in the early 2010s, that somehow any curtailment of their speech was an attack on their freedom of speech. But that ignores in both instances that there is near infinite freedom of speech for people online to go and set up their own websites and say as much or as little as suits them. There’s noting pernicious about a site having constraints and rules because all that is happening is that someone’s speech on that site is being constrained – their speech otherwise is not in the slightest bit constrained. And this happens all the time.

No one is free to come to where I live and be misogynistic or racist. Almost everyone would regard that as unreasonable. Moreover in the public sphere those sort of attitudes (patchily in ways no doubt) are subject to softer constraints and as one letter notes, more rigid ones – certain legal proceedings such as family law hearings are not made public. Freedom of speech is itself curtailed in relation to various areas – and rightly so. It is not an absolute.

Similarly moving a protest from immediately outside a hospital or facility to 100m away is not a significant curtailment of freedom of speech. Those protesting can protest to their hearts content and not just there but anywhere – the point is that the right of those attending that hospital or facility have the right to do so unimpeded. The manner of how these protests is conducted is also not without significance. The perception of intimidation is very real for many in that context (some will recall the unlovely protests over this very issue outside Leinster House some years back where those doing the protesting wore body cams and appeared all too eager to generate a response). 

We can’t protest inside Leinster House  – and I’ve some problems with the sort of stuff Pat Rabbitte experienced, or protests outside politicians homes, primarily that they’re counterproductive for a start, generating sympathy on a personal level and diverting from the political. Call that pragmatism. But politicians aren’t, as it were civilians. My sympathies for them only go so far given they put themselves before the people. People going to hospitals and other facilities most certainly are civilians. 

If we lived in a context where opinions were difficult to express. Well, perhaps that would have some power as an argument. But we don’t. It’s easy, all too easy, to express opinions. The author of the letter has their one expressed in a national newspaper. They can start a blog, web site, print posters, stand outside the Dáil, pretty much say what they like (within reason, and again it’s not an absolute free for all. Funny how some of the most unpopular and marginal expressions of opinion don’t see people flocking to express them). The key point there is that no one has to listen to those opinions. And that’s a key element of this too. Why should a person on their way to a medical procedure have to endure that at the entrance to the place they are going? Why can’t they have the same right as me in my home or you in a bar to say no thanks, I don’t have to listen to this any more? 

The point about unpopular opinions leaves me fairly cold. Upsetting and hurtful speech really doesn’t need to be reified to an absurd degree. Again those who wish to speak can do so. I recall the experience of miscarriage and I know how bleak and grim that was. I cannot imagine what having to encounter protestors at the hospital during that time would have been like – or perhaps I can to a degree and I know that the hurtfulness and upset would be near unendurable piled on top of what was already being experienced. It takes no great compassion to map that on to those having abortions and other procedures of which there are many and to see that something else enters this equation – that being appropriateness. To try to push this into the free speech conflict – particularly in a world where we’re awash in free speech, isn’t persuasive. 

Comments»

1. Alibaba - August 12, 2022

This letter reminds me that usually it has been the left that has been attacked spuriously for limiting freedom of speech when it does something that the right-wingers (and even some well-meaning people) dislike.

In fact, the left defends the right of women to have access to safe zones and exercise a limit to the protest of opponents who hassle them at a time when they are extraordinarily upset and feel so hurtful. How do we know? We listen to what they have to say and that’s what we’ve been told. It is not to be forgotten.

Attempts to intimidate women at times when they seek medical procedures should be fought with vigour.

Liked by 2 people

2. mal - August 12, 2022

I don’t think picketing abortion services can be defended unless you consider viewing abortions as murder, or basically murder, to be valid or mostly valid. Not all beliefs are legally protected, and ultimately it’s social consensus that determines whether they become accepted. The reason the people who pulled down the Edward Colston statue in Bristol aren’t in prison is because a jury decided that while what they did would usually be illegal, they were acting in the common good (I think, I’m not a lawyer). The moral right to take an action is always determined by whether the cause is socially acceptable. That’s why killing someone in self defense is broadly acceptable but killing someone so you can eat them isn’t.

Of course this can get very messy. Even actions taken for good reasons by sincere people and done with the best will in the world can leave people, including bystanders, hurt and traumatized. I read an old article a while ago by a former environmental protestor who had deep regrets about some of the forest protection actions he’d been part of – jumping in front of loggers’ treecutters – because it was unfair to the loggers to make them risk nearly killing him.

And restrictions on free speech intended to prevent certain kinds of socially unacceptable behaviour are used to defend the powerful. But where do we draw the line? Peace activists have been convicted for property damage and runway invasions at Shannon. Is damaging property and costing the airport money (and at worst causing danger to passengers) more serious than upsetting people and deterring them from accessing medical care?

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