Scott Tibbs
Published in the Indiana Daily Student, November 10, 1997

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Killing civil disobedience

In 1994, the United States Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. After the heavily publicized murders of clinic employees, lawmakers felt a need to protect women who wished to have abortions from pro-life "terrorists." The bill passed with relative ease in the Senate and the House and was signed by President Bill Clinton.

But this law is seriously flawed. The most frightening aspect of it is the application of the law specifically to civil disobedience of pro-life protesters. Here in America, our elected officials decided existing laws against civil disobedience were not enough "protection" for abortion centers. No, we have to target pro-lifers specifically, they decided. We have to make a special law at the federal level against people engaging in civil disobedience because of what they think.

The Thought Police arrived in 1994 with this act. Simply because of what they believe, everyday people -- housewives, factory workers, students -- are now subject to a special law dealing with acts on the basis of the motivation behind them. Although the courts have not seen it this way yet, FACE is unconstitutional.

One has to wonder why this law was even needed. Yes, a few deranged psychotics committed murder or other violence at clinics. But the vast majority of pro-life activism is completely nonviolent. Even when engaging in civil disobedience, pro-lifers are not violent; holding a sit-in in front of an abortion clinic is hardly an act of terrorism. These people are simply putting their bodies on the line to protest the killing of children inside the clinic, as Operation Rescue does. When police arrive, they routinely beat the pro-lifers.

In the video "The Hard Truth," police can be seen savagely beating pro-life demonstrators simply for sitting in front of an entrance to a clinic. One pastor in my hometown related to me a story about one woman who was so brutalized by police for engaging in civil disobedience on behalf of the right to life that the hospital she went to thought she had been in a motorcycle accident.

Civil disobedience has been the foundation of many movements in America's history. From the fight for civil rights for people of color to acts of protest against the Vietnam War, activists have been engaging in civil disobedience and subsequently sacrificing their time, finances, bodies and even their lives to make a point for years. Even now, organizations such as the Animal Defense League engage in civil disobedience to make a point. In California, a group of anti-logging protesters held a sit-in at a congressman's office to express support for a bill to limit logging in national forests.

What is so bad about pro-life civil disobedience that a special federal law had to be passed specifically against it? Is it because the view a child has a right to life isn't politically correct? In any case, trespassing and sit-ins are illegal. To pass a law specifically against an already illegal activity simply because you do not like the beliefs of the protesters flies directly in the face of everything America stands for. In essence, the 103rd Congress decided action was needed because of what a particular group thinks. This act of legislating special penalties for one particular movement should frighten the left as well as the right. What if the 105th Congress decides that labor unions are to be specially discriminated against? I sincerely doubt the supporters of FACE would argue a "compelling interest" if a law was passed against civil disobedience of striking workers by connecting it to the union members who attack and injure "scab" workers. Yet it is OK to discriminate against pro-lifers.

Personally, I am not too fond of civil disobedience. While it has a place if used sparingly and wisely, it can do more harm than good to a movement. I believe standing outside a clinic with a sign and calmly attempting to convince the woman arriving at the clinic not to allow the abortionist to kill her baby -- through sidewalk counseling and the distribution of literature -- can be much more effective. We are there out of love, both for the mother and the child. Physically blocking an entrance to a clinic can convey a message that is not love, no matter how good the intentions of the protesters are.

I admire those who are willing to give up their bodies, their finances and even their lives for a cause. And let's not forget what the cause is: We are protecting living, precious children from being slaughtered before they have a chance to live.

FACE needs to be repealed now. While it is true it will be nearly impossible to repeal this act with a pro-abortion extremist such as Bill Clinton in the White House, our leaders in Congress must try. Because if this injustice is allowed to stand, the group you sympathize with might be next for special punishment. And that group might just be on the left.