Unborn in the USA and freedom of speech?

Posted: July 16, 2009 by newhavenlse in Free Speech
Tags: ,

Abortion is a topic in the US that can not only lead to a polarization of opinion, but also a polarization of action. One only need look at the recent killing of controversial abortion doctor George Tiller to see the lengths some people will go to support their cause.

Yesterday evening on returning from work I noticed the documentary on Netflix titled “Unborn in the USA”. The programme details the often controversial and at points criminal behaviour of  groups associated with the pro-life movement. As interesting as this was; one scene in particular got me thinking. This takes place close to the end of the film and shows from a cinema vertie perspective, the argument between a Christian woman (who hasn’t had an abortion) and the anti-abortionist picketers.

The pro-life group have set up camp alongside a busy road and erected large banners and boards plastered with images of aborted babies. These pictures are presented to passing motorists, and those who slow down to take in a better view, often find children at their windows presenting them with pro-life leaflets.

The woman in question takes no time to lay into the pro-lifers for their choice of imagery, and the fact that they are forcing those walking down the street or driving past to view it. The pro-lifers of course launch into counter arguments, and the conversation quickly descends into accusations of being associated with Satan followed by it all “kicking off”.

A nearby police officer intervenes and arrests the angry woman for punching the mouth piece of the pro-lifers.

This moment in the film raises a somewhat controversial question regarding freedom of speech.

In the US like the UK, films of a graphic nature are labeled with a ratings system designed to protect children from viewing the material. However no such system seems to exist to vet the images displayed in public places, these are of course protected by first amendment rights… in most cases.

The controversy enters the debate when one asks, do I have the right to choose not to see these images? If we take the recent Scientology exhibition in Cambridge MA. titled “Psychiatry an Industry of Death” as an example we can see in this case all images and material was located within a building, where people could chose to enter and view the content. However the photos of aborted fetuses in the documentary are placed in public areas, where people have to pass through, thus having little choice but to avert their eyes if they are lucky enough to have been forewarned.

An interesting experiment would have been to ask the pro-life protesters a number of questions. Would they for example be happy with a poster depicting two consenting homosexual males indulging in anal sex being displayed outside their church?

Would they be happy with members of the public asking their children if they knew the meaning of sexually explicit words?

We could also ask if they would mind protesters with sandwich boards, following their carol singers around at Christmas, depicting photos of dismembered children killed by bombing raids in Iraq.

I think the chances are the first of the above questions would see the groups burst into an apoplectic rage and freedom of speech would be out of the window.

I am of the opinion freedom of speech means exactly that, however when photos of a graphic nature are involved then we can reasonably ask;  should people be presented with the opportunity to not view the images? This is a question that of course would be an interesting debate point.

In conclusion, this documentary has not just highlighted the on going debate between the pro-life and pro-choice groups, but also how rank hypocrisy exists within the Christian right in America. They want free speech when it suites them and to legislate against what they don’t like.

As freedom of speech is challenged in the west by the Christian fundamentalists, as well as any other religious fundamentalist group, I think it is important to remind these groups of the immortal phrase; You can’t have your cake and eat it!

You can read more about the documentary here:


And can see how the name has been bagged by the Christian right here:


  1. pazot says:

    It’s an interesting double standard. I’m sure if you stood outside a Catholic school with pictures of young boys being molested, then the ideals of freedom of speech would be somehow less important.
    In fact, given that Ireland has just brought in an anti-blasphemy law, making it illegal to say or do anything that will offend a substantial number of members of any faith, true freedom of speech, which includes the possibility that people will say things you don’t like, obviously isn’t that important when religion’s concerned.

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