Illinois’ abortion notification law harms free speech – Chicago Tribune

Posted: August 11, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Few issues evoke stronger feelings or more basic divisions than abortion. Those who think it should be legal regard it as part of women's basic autonomy and liberty. Those who think it should be outlawed in all or some cases see it as the deliberate and unwarranted taking of a human life. Forty-four years after the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the two sides remain as opposed as ever.

The right to abortion, as the court ruled then, is protected by the constitutional right of privacy. But that leaves other questions unanswered. The one posed by an Illinois law is: To what extent can medical professionals who are morally opposed to the procedure be forced to facilitate it?

A state law passed in 1977 provides broad coverage for rights of conscience. It says no doctors or nurses may be required to "perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way" in any procedure that violates their moral convictions. But last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill mandating that any medical professional who declines to provide abortion must, on request, give the patient a referral or information on where to get an abortion.

A group of medical clinics and professionals challenged the law in court, arguing that providing the required information would make them complicit in what they see as destroying human life. And last month, a federal court ruled in their favor.

One essential component of freedom of speech is the freedom not to speak. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students could not be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1977, it said the state of New Hampshire could not require motorists to display its "Live Free or Die" motto on their license plates. The First Amendment, it said in that case, protects the right of all people "to refuse to foster ... an idea they find morally objectionable."

Judge Frederick Kapala found that the Illinois law likewise infringes on the right of medical professionals who object to abortion "by compelling them to tell their patients that abortion is a legal treatment option, which has benefits" and "to give their patients the identifying information of providers who will perform an abortion." The judge blocked enforcement of the law.

We think the court got it right. And the decision is one abortion-rights advocates should approve, if only because the principle upheld here protects them. That's clear from a 2014 federal appeals court decision invalidating a North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to show each patient ultrasound fetal images and deliver a message meant to discourage her from having an abortion.

"While the state itself may promote through various means childbirth over abortion," the court said, "it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting attempted here." The Supreme Court let the ruling stand.

In either instance, the state is free to use its own resources and outlets to convey the information it thinks patients should have. But it can't make private individuals do that job. Government-compelled speech is a bad idea no matter which side is being compelled.

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Illinois' abortion notification law harms free speech - Chicago Tribune

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