Friday, March 2, 2012

Defending the right to free speech

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms...freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication..." Speech is generally considered a form of expression, so if everyone has the right to speak freely, does that mean my speech should be allowed to hurt other people?

The Silent no More campaign, a pro-life campaign group had women who regretted having an abortion spoke out about their experience, was recently held outside Tim Horton’s on the UNBSJ campus. I had to take a step back from this topic because admittedly, I am pro-life but am not a fan of pro-life or pro-choice’s use of theatrical stunts to get attention. While I commend these women’s bravery for speaking out on such a personal topic, admittedly I petitioned university administration and student council to rethink the LifeLink group and their actions that day. Now I’m left wondering if I don’t support freedom of speech, a core belief I always thought I held strongly to.

Freedom of speech in Canada is limited – hate speech, for example, is illegal. In questioning LifeLink’s right to speak in such a public venue on such an emotional topic, I asked if this was legal – and it is. In my opinion, LifeLink and Silent No More had no intention of inciting hatred towards anyone. It obviously had public interest and was an attempt to benefit the public on a topic they believe to be true. I support LifeLink’s right to freedom of speech in such a public venue.

When trying to understand why I was so upset, if I agree with their rights, I looked to information about post abortive side-effects – something the Silent No More presenters had mentioned.

In 1990, Catherine Barnard wrote ‘The Long-Term Psychological Effects of Abortion’ for The Institute for Pregnancy Loss. It stated: “19% of post-abortion women suffer from diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)…20 to 40 percent showed moderate to high levels of stress and avoidance behaviour relative to their abortion experience.”

Other symptoms of post abortive disorders cited by another pro-life site include a study from the Internet Journal of Mental Health were 42% having major depression, 39% coping with an anxiety disorder and 27% having suicidal ideation due to the stress after the abortion.

Admittedly, statistics can be skewed but these are from websites that are pro-life so I see this as a basis for concern. Is outside a Tim Horton’s really the spot to attempt to get a woman (or man) to consider counseling as they experience symptoms of PTSD? Is that the message they took away, or was there a feeling of judgment and shame because of the topic itself? I wonder how many women walked up – in an extremely public venue – and asked for counseling. How many women walked away without even asking for information because it was an upsetting experience?

My concern is not for LifeLink – they have the right to say what they did. It is not for the people who are pro-choice – they have the right to hold a pro-choice rally. My concern lies in the hypothetical woman, who walked in their university that they are paying to go to and experienced the symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression because of an emotionally charged topic.

LifeLink has the right to hold a rally wherever they want – it is their right as Canadian citizens and I will defend that right even if I don’t agree that this is the best venue.

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