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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pro-lifer Arrested for Praying: Our Response

SecularProLife.org joins Students for Life of America, Law Students for Life, and many others in condemning the arrest of Northwestern University student Joe Holland. Holland, a pro-life Catholic, was praying the rosary outside of a Chicago Planned Parenthood that does abortions. He was arrested under a "bubble zone" ordinance that prohibits being within 8 feet of an abortion client "for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling" with mothers.

Many of our members are non-theists and do not pray in front of abortion centers. Many believe that this form of action is ineffective or even counterproductive. But we all share a strong commitment to freedom of speech. If anyone's pro-life expression is curtailed, all pro-life messages are threatened— the secular along with the religious.

Holland makes a great plaintiff because prayer may not be conduct covered by the bubble zone law. But if Holland is acquitted for that reason, where does that leave non-Christian pro-lifers? We cannot carve out a special exception for prayer while denying alternative means of protest for the non-religious, such as displaying a sign. The entire bubble zone ordinance must be challenged and struck down as unconstitutional! [Update: All charges against Joe Holland have been dropped.]

Abortion advocates argue that bubble zone laws are needed to prevent violence. This is absurd. Violent conduct is already illegal, and any pro-life group worth mentioning condemns it. The conduct that the ordinance prohibits is any peaceful action that might cause a mother to change her mind about an abortion. The violence that Planned Parenthood is really concerned about is violence to its bottom line.

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