by Guest Blogger: Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship
Censorship is all about controlling what people think and do by regulating what they know and say. Nowhere is this more evident than in the never-ending battles over speech about sex, sexuality and reproduction.
As noted in this issue, kids are the main target of censorship of sexual content. “Abstinence-only-until-marriage”programs in public schools eliminate discussion of abortion, contraception, extramarital sex, and homosexuality. Instead, students learn about the perils of sex – unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and psychological trauma – which they are told can only be avoided by complete abstinence until marriage. But ignorance has a price: students who learn only about contraceptive failure are less likely to use contraception if they do become sexually active.
Opponents of abortion use related tactics to deter adult women from seeking abortions. In South Dakota, women seeking an abortion must be told that there’s an increased risk of suicide after abortion, even though the evidence of such a risk is scant at best. Some years ago, some states required doctors to tell women that there was a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though the research supporting that claim was similarly inadequate.
In contrast, Arizona permits withholding accurate information from pregnant women. Arizona law protects doctors from “wrongful birth” lawsuits if they withhold information about fetal health from pregnant patients who later give birth to a child with a disability or illness. It’s a clever marriage of tort reform and anti-abortion policy. A woman with a wanted pregnancy who discovers that her fetus has a serious health problem might decide to terminate her pregnancy. In Arizona, she can remain in blissful ignorance. After she delivers, however, she’s barred from suing the doctor on the ground that she would have terminated the pregnancy if she’d been fully informed. It’s now her baby, and her problem.
Government suppression of information is thought control – and censorship. It’s not much different when the government selectively force-feeds certain information. Propaganda and indoctrination are close cousins of censorship. It’s easy to understand why people resort to such techniques in pursuit of what they consider a higher end. In this country, however, that’s not how it works. Whatever our individual views of the divisive abortion debate, the Constitution allows us to form our own beliefs without government interference, and to make decisions about our private lives according to those beliefs.