Licenses for Sidewalk Counselors

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.

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3 Responses to Licenses for Sidewalk Counselors

  1. Katie_Speak says:

    Reblogged this on KatieSpeak and commented:
    Yes. Read, follow, and listen to all the things from Andrea Greer.

  2. AbortionChat says:

    Shared this on AbortionChat’s facebook feed and twitter feed. Thank you so much for this idea.

  3. Carol Downer says:

    Dear Andrea:

    I am finding that tweeting is a very poor way to communicate. I am finding it hard to understand your extreme upset with the letter of support I wrote for when it is delivered in machine-gun-like-140- character spurts.

    I do get it that people who have been working to keep abortion clinics open in Texas feel disrespected by non-Texans coming to Texas to express their outrage at what the Texas legislature has done and how the Courts have ruled. And, I also get it that these same people do not agree with StopPatriarchy’s style of public protest, and they are concerned that anti-abortionists will capitalize on any negative image that will result from’s visit and how that may impact on the ability of Texans to carry on their work with the media and the legislators and other decision-makers.

    As an abortion provider, I am opposed to counter-protests in front of clinics, and I’m very outspoken about it. I have been assured that will not do this.

    As far as the support of our state legislatures, from all the history I’ve read of abortion reform and the experience I have had in California, the record shows that legislatures mostly vote against anything to do with abortion. In California, when we opened our women-controlled clinics after Roe v. Wade, we faced a whole range of proposed TRAP laws (they weren’t called that yet), applying the regulations that applied to hospitals to clinics. We rented a small apartment in Sacramento, the State Capitol, and “the State Team” slept on the floor and attended hearings and developed friendships with legislators that favored us, etc. Now we have a clinic in Sacramento, but each year, the anti’s re-introduce these types of regulation. So, I’m very familiar with this tactic and I believe that our success in keeping this kind of legislation from passing is attributable mostly to macro-politics, that is, the Powers That Be in California want abortion to be available. Our efforts helped, of course, but it mainly taught us not to think that women’s reproductive freedom will ever be achieved through lobbying, no matter how competently done (and we are very competent).

    When Ralph Nader ran for President, his solution for resolving the abortion debate was to send the issue back to the state legislatures. I personally protested outside the Green Party political rally and distributed leaflets explaining how completely uninformed and stupid his idea was, or his way of being secretly anti-abortion.

    So, forgive me if I’m not as worried about how the possibly obnoxious presence of may affect legislators as you seem to be. I know that even our elected friends act out of motivations that have nothing to do with female liberation, but rather have to do with population control and other non-feminist goals.

    Abortion was made legal, under very limited conditions, by the courts. Here again, I do not believe that Justice Blackmun had a sudden revelation that abortion was a matter between a woman and her doctor. Most abortion rights activists were shocked when the decision in Roe v. Wade came down. We at the FWHC’s were not surprised, because we had been paying attention to the tide of anti-natalism that had been building in the country throughout the sixties about the “population explosion”, and we also were part of a upsurge of women around the country that were awakening to the outrage of laws against abortion who were determined to do something about it, like starting illegal abortion services and learning about our bodies so that we could safely provide abortions or menstrual extractions. If you re-read Blackmun’s opinion, you’ll see that he mentions menstrual extraction in a laundry list of “new technologies”. So, yes, SCOTUS “gave” us abortion; it was necessary for women to get into the workplace and also we thought they feared groups of women overcoming their traditional shame to enable us to learn to perform early abortions.

    Well, times have changed. Populations in the Western World are going down. The Powers That Be, including the Rockefellers and the Ford Foundation, are getting cold feet, and the Koch Brothers and other wealthy nativists are gaining ascendancy among the elites.

    I foresee that the victory in Texas will be repeated in many states within the next year or so, and I don’t exclude California. I think we’re in for a very long haul.

    Like everyone, I’ve been really upset about the clinics closing. I don’t know much about the work that has been going on in Texas, but that’s not for lack of trying to find out. I presumed you were all working your heads off.

    But I do think every single woman has the absolute right to demand her own rights wherever she chooses to do so. And, things are pretty quiet here in L.A. I held a meeting to bring together anyone who wanted to do something about it. Three people, all of whom I’ve known for 25 years, showed up. So, when planned to go to the state where the travesty happened and express their outrage, I applauded. (They also held meetings here in L.A. and staged protests in Santa Monica).

    In fact, I may be coming to Texas to speak at StopPatriarchy’s events if enough money can be raised for my travel. If so, I would like to meet with you and anyone else that you recommend.

    Of course, I should forewarn you that I may be going against other opinions you have. For example, I am disgusted with PP and the “pro-choice” movement they have so dominated. Despite loss after loss after loss, they have never really encouraged grass-roots organizing, or used their clinics to help women to learn about their bodies. Their acknowledgment of reproductive justice is mere lip service. Their clinics, in their ruthless competition, have weakened or destroyed more independent providers of abortion than the Texas legislature. I know this from belonging to the National Abortion Federation for years and being a part of the Independent Providers Caucus and from when a PP physician testified against our doctor in Riverside, California at his preliminary hearing. (this, despite the contrary opinion of three of the leading abortion experts in the U.S. who testified that the patient’s death was a result of a rare, but normal complication of later abortion. The doctor served time in jail as a result.

    I’m sick of just working for “choice” when without reproductive justice, there is no “choice”. I want the birth control and abortion part of our movement to work with other branches of the women’s health movement, the birth, the breast-feeding movement (which I recognize are under the influence of the Catholic Church), rights of pregnant women, etc. Also, I’m not against “teenage pregnancy” or Quiverfull women having dozens of children.

    You seem quite capable of expressing your opinions, so if you’re interested, let me know.


    Carol Downer

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