McCullen v. Coakley got me thinking.
Justice Scalia is intent on calling the people who stand outside offering their opinions to strangers entering clinics counselors, not protesters. The plaintiff in the case, Eleanor McCullen, claims she’s just a mother and grandmother who wants to give people information about abortion before they enter clinics.
If we’re going to call them counselors, then let’s regulate them the way we do all mental health professionals. Moms and grandmoms can offer advice at home and on the phone all they want, but if they hold themselves out in public as counselors, they should be required to have the same credentials as someone who offers counseling in the more traditional setting of an office.
Not to get too technical, but the credentials will probably need to be a certain size, and framed, and printed in at least two languages in some parts of the country. These sidewalk counselors will likely also need to post whatever patient rights and complaint/hotline information other counseling professionals so.
In fact, we already require by law that certain information offered during the procedure be presented by a doctor, not a nurse or counselor or anyone else, so clearly the law already envisions requiring that people delivering information about abortion have certain specific licenses and credentials.
If they are going to include medical information in their advice, shouldn’t they be required to have medical credentials, too, just like the doctors performing the procedures?
Texas, for example, requires clinics hand out a pamphlet called A Woman’s Right to Know. Doctors are required by state law to give specific information to clients. We don’t talk about the doctor’s free speech rights in this context. Shouldn’t we require any counselor, including sidewalk counselors, to give this state-mandated information as well? And shouldn’t the be subject to the same penalties if they don’t provide the mandated information?
Maybe we can even generate a little revenue here. If the sidewalk is their work space, are we OK allowing them to use it for free?
And what about malpractice insurance? What if they offer false or misleading information? Can we file a complaint with whatever state board licenses them?
There are all sorts of ways we should be regulating the people outside abortion clinics if what they are offering is medical or mental health advice. After all, we regulate the speech that gets provided inside the clinics. Let’s get some consistency here.