An elderly woman was standing on the sidewalk outside of a Planned Parenthood in central Philadelphia. She paced back and forth on the sidewalk quietly praying for the mothers and unborn children inside.
But, suddenly, a man approached her. He began yelling insults at her and filming her with his camera phone. That man was Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims.
“Have you fed any children today?” he asked mockingly. “Or have you just stood out in front of a Planned Parenthood shaming people for something that they have a constitutional right to do?”
But when you think about it, it is actually Sims who was shaming that woman for doing something she has a constitutional right to do.
The Constitution protects every American’s God-given right to free speech. And in 2014, the Supreme Court specifically said that pro-lifers are free to exercise that right when they peacefully pray and offer help outside of abortion clinics.
It all started with Eleanor McCullen, a woman much like the pro-lifer confronted by Sims.
For 14 years, Eleanor spent 10 hours a week outside of a Planned Parenthood in her city of Boston, Massachusetts. She would quietly pray. When men and women walked to and from the clinic, she would speak compassionately to them about their unborn child’s development and offer to help in any way she could.
But that all changed in 2008. Massachusetts enacted a law that created a 35-foot, anti-free speech zone around abortion facilities. Eleanor could no longer stand in front of the clinic. She and other sidewalk counselors were forced to shout to the women and men entering the clinic, giving the impression they were there to condemn, not help.
Eleanor was determined to help women choose life for their babies. But the law was making her ministry nearly impossible.
So, with the help of attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, Eleanor challenged the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in 2014, she won. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court unanimously struck down the Massachusetts law, saying that it violated the First Amendment.
But to this day, the freedom of pro-lifers to peacefully stand outside abortion clinics is under threat. Right now, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania there is a law creating a similar censorship zone around abortion clinics. ADF attorneys are currently fighting this law in federal court.
Back on that street in Philadelphia, Rep. Sims posted the video on social media. He asked his followers to publish the personal information of the woman on the street. “If you know who this woman is, if you can give me her address, we’ll protest out in front of her home,” he said. “This is what they deserve.”
Everyone has a constitutional right to free speech. And no one deserves to be harassed and threatened for exercising that right. Shouldn’t a state lawmaker be protecting that right for his constituents – even if he disagrees?
But there is another right he is ignoring. The right all of the unborn children in that clinic have to life. Pro-life advocates like Eleanor McCullen and the woman in the video use their speech to save the lives of these children.
They use their First Amendment rights for a noble purpose. Can Sims say the same?