Would it be unfair to say that David Farrar considers the mental anguish anti-abortion protestors cause to women about to undergo a termination procedure matters less than the annoyance a voter may feel at having to refuse to accept a political party leaflet? Maybe it would, so read on and decide for yourself ... .

So it's Friday afternoon, deep into intellectual garbage time, and it's been a wee while since I've taken a gratuitous pot-shot at one of my fellow denizens of the blogosphere. What better reasons do I then need for writing the following?

We begin with Tuesday's NZ Herald, in which was this little story

Green MP Jan Logie says it is worth debating whether New Zealand should introduce a no-protest zone around abortion clinics, similar to those enforced in some Australian states.

...

Logie said the Green Party had no plans for a member's bill on the issue but another speaker had raised the Australian example. There were different views expressed on it and she believed a broader discussion was needed.

"I do think there's is a genuine issue around the impact of those protests directly targeting women and making their lives worse.

Unfortunately for Ms Logie, David Farrar says no

I’m pro-choice. I think those who do protest outside abortion clinics are misguided and insensitive and do indeed make what can be a traumatic experience even worse for those involved. I wish they didn’t protest, just as I wish the Westboro Church didn’t picket funerals. It reflects badly on them.

But they have a right to protest, and I don’t think no-protest zones are a good idea.

Thus, as much as David Farrar regrets any mental anguish caused to women having wade through a host of placard waving activists to enter a health facility and undergo a (possibly) emotionally wrenching and intimate medical procedure, some things are just more important. Their pain is the true cost of democracy. We may regret that such costs must be paid, but steely eyed and firm of purpose, we cannot deviate from our true principles to ease it even one little bit.

Except. Back at the end of July, the NZ Herald ran this story outlining what Justice Minister Amy Adams planned to do in response to Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee's report into the 2014 election:

Adams also expected to change the law before 2017 to cater for the increasing trend of advance voting in 2014 and the Northland byelection after that.

That would result in a ban on election campaigning or campaign advertising around advance voting booths, as well as providing more booths and allowing votes to be counted earlier.

This "ban on election campaigning or campaign advertising around advance voting booths" arose out of the Justice and Electoral Committee's recommendation "that the Government prohibit campaigning and the display of campaign material within, and in the immediate vicinity of, advance voting places."

So what says our erstwhile defender of freedom of speech, with his steely eyed and determined acceptance that individual rights demand we all be prepared to pay a price to uphold their cherished status? Surely he rejects the notion of creating a "no campaigning zone" near polling places, on the basis that while he might wish such activity did not occur, voters must accept that in a free society those who desire to do so cannot be stopped? Apparently ... not.

Last election some people had to wade through placard waving activists to get into a voting booth. I think it is sensible to not have campaigning around the advance voting booths.

So now we know how true dedication to the principle of free speech works. The mental anguish caused to women outside medical clinics by individuals voicing their opposition to abortion as a practice is not sufficiently important to mandate that protestors keep a certain distance away from the entrance to such places. But the mild annoyance caused to voters at having to brush off enthusiastic political party volunteers is sufficiently important to require that electoral speech be prohibited in the vicinity of the polling place.

Such are the difficult and wrenching calls that steely eyed and determined classic liberals must be prepared to make in their defence of this overridingly important principle of freedom of speech.

(For the record, I also recommended imposing a no-campaigning "buffer zone" around polling places while voting was occurring (but I also advocated doing away with any other restrictions on campaigning on polling day). I'd also support a specific law imposing a buffer zone around the entrance to abortion providers, if there were real evidence that the protesting activities were causing significant mental distress to women and/or dissuading them from attending.)

Comments (26)

by Pete Turangi on August 19, 2016
Pete Turangi

*slow admiring clap*

by Raymond A Francis on August 19, 2016
Raymond A Francis

What Peter said.

Andrew, after your work on this weeks members bill I thought we were in for an old white man's rant but this is very good.

by Nick R on August 19, 2016
Nick R

Pete +1.

DPF often makes very good points, even when I disagree with them.  But I found this post utterly tone deaf.  

FWIW, I also seem to recall that he had no problem with the law change requiring protesters to stay at least 500m away from offshore drilling platforms.  

by Eszett on August 20, 2016
Eszett

Well said, Andrew. I also read DPF piece and was dismayed. A prime example of when ideology meets compassion and ideology wins. 

by Nick Gibbs on August 20, 2016
Nick Gibbs

In the race to diminish free speech isn't DPF shooting for bronze, while you're racing for silver. I propose gagging climate change deniers. If you are going to break faith with the principle of free speech shouldn't it be for something bold that will deeply impact society and the future. Restraining campaigning on the day of the GE is surely too trivial to abandon principle for.

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

I don't really think there is an inconsistency here. The polling booth example is an attempt to be consistent with the principle of "no electioneering on polling day", ie the principle that voters should not be subjected to electioneering while they are making up their minds as to how they should vote. This principle, while probably debatable, is generally accepted, I think, by most people. The right to abort, I think, is not generally accepted by everybody, and there are strong feelings n both sides.    

by Ross on August 20, 2016
Ross

The polling booth example is an attempt to be consistent with the principle of "no electioneering on polling day", ie the principle that voters should not be subjected to electioneering while they are making up their minds as to how they should vote.

There should be a law banning people from voting on election day if they haven't already made up their mind! If they can't make up in their mind in three years, they are not competent to vote.

I've never had an issue with campaigning on election day and have never understood why campaigning is illegal. Certainly, some All Blacks and other well known sports people don't think the law applies to them.

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

The principle of representatives and governments being elected by popular vote is universally accepted within NZ (and many other countries). The question of electioneering on polling day is largely an administration matter; some countries allow it, some don't. The question of abortion is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Andrew is comparing apples with oranges.

by Nick Gibbs on August 20, 2016
Nick Gibbs

How is electioneering on polling day an administrative matter?

by Megan Pledger on August 20, 2016
Megan Pledger

No electioneering on polling day is a good idea because it make the politicians pull down their hoardings before they know the outcome of the poll.   If they have to wait until after and the results have come in then noone has any incentive to pull them down particularly the losers.  

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2016
Andrew Geddis

The question of electioneering on polling day is largely an administration matter; some countries allow it, some don't.

The "question of electioneering on polling day" involves a potential fine of up to $20,000 if you up leave a hoarding that says "Vote Labour" on your front lawn (where it may have sat for the last three months), or put an ad in the Saturday paper reading "Don't throw away our progress - Vote National!", or tweet out to your followers "don't believe the hype - don't vote Green". How is that "largely an administration matter" and not a pretty substantial impediment on a person's right to free speech? Contrariwise, some countries allow protests at the entry to abortion providers, others don't. So why doesn't this fact make that issue "largely an administration matter"?

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh
"How is electioneering on polling day an administrative matter?" The system is that we elect MPs by popular vote. The rules surrounding this relate to how we administer the system. Those who engage in electioneering are not trying to stop people voting. Persons who protest outside abortion clinics would certainly like to stop women aborting. "How is that "largely an administration matter" and not a pretty substantial impediment on a person's right to free speech?" How is it an impediment to "freedom of speech" when all the rule does is insist that a particular time and/or place is inappropriate for speech when that speech relates to electioneering.    

 

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

I apologize for the way the above comment is set out. It hasn't come out the way I typed it. It should have appeared in 4 or 5 separate paragraphs. I really don't know what happened.

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2016
Andrew Geddis

Sorry, mikesh, but I'm not really, really not following you here (and I don't think it's just the set out of your comment).

It is true that as a part of our "electoral administration" we have a rule that says "no electioneering on polling day" - a rule that is to be extended to say "no electioneering within 50 m (or whatever) of advance polling places". But the entire point and purpose of that rule is to stop people engaging in communicative behaviour intended to sway the actions of others because we don't want to annoy voters on their way to vote. So that limits freedom of speech - actually, it completely prohibits forms of speech - in terms of when (or where) the speaker may try and communicate with others.

A rule that says "no protesting within 50 m (or whatever) of the entrance to an abortion provider" similarly stops people engaging in communicative behaviour intended to sway the actions of others because we don't want to upset women on their way to have pregnancies terminated. So how on earth can you say the two situations are in any way different? In both cases, people are being told "you can't say what you want here and now". The only difference between them lies in the rationale for imposing the limits - meaning that if you support the limits on electioneering and not the limits on abortion protests, you have to be prepared to argue that it is "more important" to stop voters being annoyed than women being upset. But you can't pretend that one somehow doesn't involve a limit on free speech whilst the other does.

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

But you can't pretend that one somehow doesn't involve a limit on free speech whilst the other does.

I'm not pretending anything. It seems obvious to me that the two situations are different. Perhaps it's because having a half a dozen candidates from different parties bellowing at voters as they enter the voting booths would be to the detriment of the democratic process. Protesters at an abortion clinic can reasonably hope that some of the clinic's clients might change their minds.

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@mikesh,

I'm still not seeing the difference, sorry:

(1) First off, you are fundamentally misrepresenting the effect of the "no campaigning on election day (or within 50m(?) of advance polling places, as suggested)" rule. It prevents all partisan campaigning, no matter how mild/uninvasive/restrained by everyone, not just "candidates ... bellowing at voters". It also captures a political protestor who advocates not voting for anyone.

(2) Both sets of speakers (partisan advocates/anti-abortion protestors) then have the same aim - to change the behaviour of those they are addressing. Partisan advocates want to win votes for their side (or, dissuade votes for opponents, which is nearly as good). Anti-abortion protestors want to win society over to their view that abortion is evil (or, dissuade women from undergoing the procedure, which is nearly as good).

(3) Thus, the difference in the situations comes down to the respective harms you believe each form of communicative activity may pose. If you support limits on speech around polling booths but not around abortion providers, you have to think that it is worse for speech to annoy/upset voters (and thus maybe stop them from voting) than it is for speech to cause anguish to women (and thus maybe stop them from accessing abortion services). If you want to make that argument, fine. I just don't think it is a very good one.

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

@Andrew Geddis

Thus, the difference in the situations comes down to the respective harms you believe each form of communicative activity may pose. If you support limits on speech around polling booths but not around abortion providers, you have to think that it is worse for speech to annoy/upset voters

This is not entirely true. Psephocrats may well deem it appropriate to restrict campaigning to certain times and places, in the interests of the smooth operation of democracy; but the authorities could still regard it inappropriate to restrict demonstrations at abortion clinics simply because they are demonstrations, and not "political salesmanship".



 

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 20, 2016
Andrew Geddis

It is true that, as a matter of fact, the law may say these two things. Indeed, it presently does. What you're not addressing is why it should say this. How do people exercising their expressive rights on polling day/outside of a polling booth (including, you must note, demonstrators advocating that people don't vote at all) interfere with "the smooth operation of democracy"? Why is this effect/impact worse than people exercising their expressive rights outside abortion providers and thereby interfering with "the smooth access of women to health facilities"?

You seen intent on insisting that there is a meaningful difference between the two cases without actually saying what it is.

by mikesh on August 20, 2016
mikesh

Authorities would probably feel they were encroaching on "hallowed ground" in foreclosing on the right to demonstrate, but the profession of politics has its rules, among which would be the rules that stipulate when and where a politician can campaign, and which most politicians would not regard as infringing their right to "freedom of speech".

I'm not sure whether demonstrations against elections and urging people not to vote would count as "electioneering" for the purposes of the electoral act. As a lawyer you would know more about that than I. All I can say about that is that it seems to me logical that they should not.

Farrar's mistake would seem to be the assumption the issue was just about "free speech", when I think there was more to it than that.

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 21, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@mikesh,

... but the profession of politics has its rules, among which would be the rules that stipulate when and where a politician can campaign, and which most politicians would not regard as infringing their right to "freedom of speech".

The prohibitions on polling day activity do NOT just apply to "politicians"!!!!!!!!! I've already linked to this, but here you go. Electoral Act 1993, s. 197(1)(g)(ii):

Every person commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 who at an election ...

at any time on polling day before the close of the poll exhibits in or in view of any public place, or publishes, or distributes, or broadcasts ...

any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector to abstain from voting.

It is unlawful to, on polling day, stand on the street holding a placard saying "do not vote - it's against God's will". so why shouldn't it be unlawful to, within a set distance of an abortion provider, stand on the street holding a placard saying "do not have an abortion - it's against God's will"?  

by Ross on August 21, 2016
Ross

But let's face it, the police seem averse to charging those who electioneer in breach of the law. We saw a number of sportspeople do exactly that at the last election and weren't prosecuted. As stated, the rule is silly and electioneering should be permissible on election day. Go online on election day and there is any amount of information stating why you should vote for party X or Y.

by mikesh on August 21, 2016
mikesh

It seems to me this argument concerns three different sets of people: protesters at abortion clinics, politicians engaged in campaigning, and "any persons" who might seek to influence voters on polling day. The second and third sets are not protesting but actually engaging in "selling". Your argument seems to be that, while "selling" and "protesting" are different activities, they are in some way analogous. This latter view seems somewhat superficial, and a better analogy would be a court of law where matters before the court are deemed to be "sub judice" and should not be discussed outside the court.

You seem to be concerned with establishing that because women have a right to choose, they also have right not to be molested by protesters while exercising that right. I agree that women have a right to choose, but because protesting comes within the ambit of "freedom of speech", the right to choose unmolested by protest also needs to be established, and it is probably better to try and establish this on its own merits rather than by analogy with a different situation.

Unless of course your only concern is to prove that David Farrar holds inconsistent positions. But I don't think you have managed that.

 

by Andrew Geddis on August 21, 2016
Andrew Geddis

@mikesh,

Read the Electoral Act again. It prohibits people from seeking to dissuade others from voting - protesting against the very practice of voting. So your "one stops protest, the other stops 'selling'" claim is factually wrong. 

But I think I'm done with discussion now - I think there's enough for readers to understand both our points of view.

by mikesh on August 21, 2016
mikesh

I agree. Except to point that I made no claims about the electoral act, but was basing my arguments on plain common sense, I have no wish to continue the discussion further. I guess we'll have to " agree to disagree".

by mikesh on August 21, 2016
mikesh

ps: As a matter of semantics "protesting" and " dissuading" are not at all the same thing. Persons who try to dissuade others from voting are attempting to "sell" the idea of non-voting, presumably to send some sort of message to the powers that be, in much the same way that politicians try to "sell" this or that policy.

This really is my last word on this thread.

by Alan Johnstone on August 21, 2016
Alan Johnstone

I presume it simply comes down to things he cares about (elections) vs things he doesn't care about (women having terminations). One is worthy of protection, the other isnt

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