Aborting peaceful protest sets dangerous precedent

Health Minister Simon Harris . . . should politicians like him be allowed to 'pick and choose' what we can and cannot protest against?

Introducing exclusion or safe access zones outside clinics where abortions are held is a well-intentioned but misguided proposal.

Bradley Bytes – A Sort of Political Column with Dara Bradley 

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said he is “fully committed” to introducing legislation prohibiting the sort of demonstration that took place outside a Galway clinic last week.

The argument around these protesters isn’t about whether you agree with them – clearly, the results of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, show most right-thinking people don’t. The issue is whether we should curtail their freedom of expression, and right to protest. And if you’re a democrat, then the answer is ‘no’.

Now, you could argue that these protesters aren’t being very democratic, because they’re ignoring the will of the people in the recent referendum. But by that logic, pro-choice campaigners should have just shuffled off stage in 1983 when the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was introduced, recognising the equal right to life of the pregnant woman and the unborn. Society changes; attitudes change. And the laws reflect that.

Those pro-life protesters last week might not be what you would call ‘compassionate’. They may not be very nice people. In fact, they’re probably obnoxious and self-righteous and thrive on judging people.

They’re the sort of people that if you got stuck sitting beside in a pub, you’d skull your pint and scarper.

The protesters, in a photograph that circulated online, seem like people on the wrong side of history. But they didn’t look like they were harassing anyone. They were just holding placards; peacefully making a stand, as is their right.

We may not agree with them, but can we not agree with their right to hold a different view?

Of course, there must be restrictions on freedom of speech, but in a democracy, we have a right to protest, and long may that continue. It wasn’t so long ago that ‘liberals’ like Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris were opposed to abortion. It is their right to change their minds. But allowing politicians – and their obliging media darlings – to decide what we can and cannot protest against is a dangerous, dangerous route to go down.

Most right-thinking people abhor what these protesters are doing – but don’t succumb to fascism by banning them. If protesters are harassing patients or doctors, laws already exist in relation to assault, or harassment, or incitement.

But let’s not give politicians the right to pick and choose what we are allowed to peacefully protest against, no matter how abhorrent you find protesters’ views.

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