July 21, 1993

Article at Chicago Tribune

The abortion imbroglio stirs the Constitution itself

BYLINE: By Jim Sollisch; Jim Sollisch is a copywriter and essayist who lives in Cleveland.

Operation Rescue has come to Cleveland, Ohio, and it's hard to find anyone who's happy about it. Local police who have to spend long hours in the hot sun when they could be eating donuts in the air conditioning certainly aren't too thrilled. Local city councils - which try very hard not to think about the fact that there even are abortion clinics in their communities - aren't too happy to have people reminding them so loudly. And women who need or want abortions aren't exactly overjoyed to have to pass through a circus outside the clinic just to exercise their right to choose.

But it's important to remember that that circus out there is America. It's a made-for-real-life drama about a 200-year-old experiment called democracy. 

The fracas surrounding Operation Rescue is no more about abortion than the Boston Tea Party was about tea. Oh, the anti-abortion movement was originally about the abortion argument. But that argument's over: There's no one left to convince.

Each side knows exactly where the other stands on the issue; each knows the other's views on viability and personhood, on what the right to privacy means, on what restrictions should and should not be placed on minors seeking abortion, etc. Public opinion hasn't moved much either in the last decade.

What's still up for grabs is the process of argument. What's at issue now is the 1st Amendment itself, which is still the most important sentence ever written in the English language. Forty-five words to start a country by: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Just reading those words slows the emotion generated by the issue of abortion. They are the most rational of words, written not from the heart but from a more uniquely human organ - the brain. If these words don't make you pause, if they don't chill your passion into reason for just a second, then you're a bona fide fanatic.

Are anti-abortion protesters within their 1st Amendment rights to peaceably assemble outside the private residences of doctors? Should they be allowed to block people from entering clinics by forming human chains? Are they forcing the establishment of religion by asking our government to pass laws that make abortion illegal based on their religious viewpoints?

Can they reasonably and effectively petition the government for a redress of grievances while being denied the right to assemble outside a doctor's house? Or while having their number of supporters outside clinics limited?

These are the very questions that local city councils have grappled with since finding out that their communities had been targeted by Operation Rescue. Two communities in Greater Cleveland - Cleveland Heights and University Heights - recently passed ordinances banning picketing targeted at private residences. When asked by the press about the ACLU's position on the ordinances, Chris Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, said, "We no more want to defend what Operation Rescue stands for than we want to defend the Nazis, but our client here is the Constitution."

America is built on a Constitution that protects the rights of Nazis to hate and the rights of abortion foes to try to impose their viewpoint on the majority. The Constitution is what lets Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, talk about "Christianizing" America. But the Constitution is also what stops him from doing it.

The Constitution, with its poetic preamble written from the heart about domestic tranquility and the blessings of liberty, was amended with a Bill of Rights written from the brain to form a more perfect union. A union strong enough to contain even the most powerful contradictions.