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Choice Words

Here's a thought, pro-lifers: Back off

I hate talking about abortion. There's no middle ground, and it's an endless, predictable argument.

I'm pro-choice. I'm one of those nuts who believe in stem-cell research. I'm just crazy enough to believe that, since we throw away frozen embryos at fertility clinics anyway, we might as well use them to try to develop cures or treatment for horrible debilitating diseases. I know, I know: Life is precious! When does life begin? Blah blah blah.

Can we even agree to disagree? No. So let's take off the gloves and argue about a side issue having to do with abortions.

There's an ordinance in the city of Pittsburgh that says if you want to protest abortion at a clinic, you have to be 15 feet away from a clinic entrance, and remain 8 feet from a patient entering the clinic. But these so-called Christian zealots won't have it. They've filed a lawsuit. They believe that even though abortion is legal, they have a right to hassle you as you walk into a building (even though you may not actually be there for an abortion).

Put yourself in the place of the woman entering that clinic. You've just made what may be the most difficult decision of your entire life. You may have struggled with it more than any other decision you've ever faced. You realize you could have a baby. You're aware that you could put it up for adoption. You don't live in a cave. There is plenty of information available about all of your options. But for whatever reason, or for a myriad of complicated reasons, you've decided to get an abortion. You live in a country in which you can do this. It is, as medical procedures go, relatively safe.

And so it is on this day, an extremely consequential day in your life, you walk in to this clinic to have the abortion. You want to get it over with as quickly as possible. You are nervous about what, if any, after effects there may be, both physical and psychological.

The last thing you want to worry about is some nutbag trying to "counsel" you at the last second.

Yo, anti-abortion zealots? These people have already made their decision. And it's none of your business.

Oh, it's your business as a citizen. Picket the Supreme Court. Picket the Congress. Picket the city council and the state legislature. You can even picket the clinic. You just can't get in the faces of the private individuals who are carrying out a private, legal medical procedure. And that individual's decision and action is, and continues to be, none of your freaking business.

Mary Kathryn Brown disagrees. The Indiana Township woman, represented by the conservative "Christian" group the Alliance Defense Fund, believes her First Amendment rights are being violated. She filed a lawsuit against the members of the city council and former Mayor Bob O'Connor in 2006. O'Connor, by the way, was a devout pro-life Catholic. But he recognized a woman's right to seek and receive a legal medical procedure without harassment.

Now I believe in freedom of speech. I supported the ACLU when they backed the neo-Nazis who marched through predominately Jewish Skokie, Ill. in the late 1970s. I also think it's ridiculous that people who want to protest against the president are kept a mile or more away from the site of a presidential speech. (The administration says they're worried about security. They're really worried about the negative photo-op.)

But the point is, just as you can't yell fire in a crowded theater, we have established some limits on one's right to free speech. Brown's lawyers argue she can't reach her intended audience. They're only 15 feet away, Madame Zealot, they can see you. I'm sure they can hear you too.

"There is no right to privacy on a public sidewalk," her attorney argues. Bullshit. I can expect to be free from harassment. That's why I sometimes ignore panhandlers.

Hassling someone at this moment in time is simply unconscionable. Abortion is legal, folks. You want to try to change the law? Knock yourself out. Until then, back the fuck off.