Nat Hentoff: Bullies on both sides
I have personally experienced that pro-lifers are sometimes punishingly reprimanded for their act of conscience. For one example, in the 1980s, I declared for the first time that I had become a pro-lifer. Not on the basis of religion. My only religions are the Constitution and jazz — both interconnected by full freedom of expression.
As I explained in my column then in New York’s Village Voice, my reporting had caused me to conclude that once a fetus is viable, he or she is one of us. One result of that conclusion was that I lost a considerable percentage of my annual income.
For years, I had been on the college lecture circuit around the country, usually engaging students in debates on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights, or jazz. Suddenly, the great majority of invitations to speak on campus stopped. To those pro-choicers in charge of such lectures, I had become an undesirable heretic.
But through the years, I have also opposed those pro-lifers who bully pro-abortionists as they attempt to arrange for an abortion. Where I live in New York City, there is now a rising storm of contention over a decision on this issue headlined in the Oct. 20 New York Post:
Christine Quinn, the powerful City Council speaker — and a leading candidate to succeed Mayor Bloomberg — explains in the story why the Council is “recruiting volunteers to accompany women facing persistent protesters — ‘American Taliban,’ in the view of one advocate — when they seek reproductive services.”
Of course, anyone has the First Amendment right to assemble and protest on any issue so long as, unlike the Taliban, protesters are wholly nonviolent. That is, not only not striking anyone, but also making it very hard for them to get where they want to go. I’ve seen women confronted by so intensely irascible a gauntlet of pro-lifers that, rather than make their appointment, they turn around and leave.
Among the dissenters to the New York City Council’s recruiting volunteers to accompany women choosing an abortion is Troy Newman, president of the national pro-life organization Operation Rescue, who was shocked to learn that the government was getting involved in this abortion debate on city streets:
Reported the Post’s David Seifman: “... Newman insisted his members are acting within their constitutional rights and said it should be the police that enforce the law, not the council.”
Not only would police intervention still involve the government, to say the least, there is another conflict before the City Council — a bitter debate on establishing an inspector general over the police department, which commissioner Ray Kelly has directed as if he has lost his copy of the Constitution and has not been trying to find it.
For example, in addition to Kelly encouraging his intelligence division officers to banish Fourth Amendment rights of personal privacy among black and Hispanic citizens during “stop and frisk” operations, there are increasing documented reports of NYPD police brutality on the citizenry, some of which I’ve reported on.
So, if police replace volunteers eventually, what are the selection criteria for those police selected to accompany women on their way to abortions?
Another pressing reason for the City Council to appoint an inspector general for the NYPD to assure the First Amendment conscience rights of pro-abortion women will be enforced, is the record of Commissioner Kelly’s School Safety Agents in the public schools with the power to arrest. While at the Village Voice, I wrote a number of columns on how these enforcers of the law taught many students to fear the police — arresting and sometimes beating students for writing on their desks, failing to turn in their cell phones on coming to school because their mothers wanted, if necessary, to be in quick touch with them, and other non-felonies.
What further made this threatening presence of the school safety agents disturbing to parents was that when a student was arrested, the parents couldn’t complain to the Department of Education, because the then widely praised — and self-praised — school chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg had turned over all control of this police thrust to Commissioner Kelly.
At one point, after one of my columns, a policeman I didn’t know called me at the Voice to complain angrily about the “very poor training” these school safety agents were getting.
I cite this record of the NYPD, and there’s much more to tell, because the possibility of later having police — without our knowing the criteria of their selection — accompany women to abortions should serve to further underline the need for an NYPD inspector general.
Meanwhile, as for the bullying pro-lifers (and there are also bullyers on the other side), the First Amendment protects all expressions of fundamental beliefs. Maybe those running for mayor of New York in 2013 will make this memorably clear.
Once, during an abortion debate I had at Harvard, the pro-abortion professor roared at me: “If you’re so pro-life, why don’t you go out and kill abortionists?”
“Because,” I said. “I’m pro-life.”
Nat Hentoff is a renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.