On October 30, the Center’s U.S. Legal Program submitted its first friend-of-the-court brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The case, James Roger Demers v. Canada, pits the right to freedom of speech against the need to protect abortion providers and patients from harassment, intimidation, and violence by anti-choice protestors.
Center Challenges Anti-Choice Protestor’s Freedom of Expression Claim
The case was brought in 2004 by James Demers, a Canadian anti-choice activist who was arrested and later convicted under the Canadian Abortion Services Act for protesting outside an abortion clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia.
In his petition, Demers argues that his conviction and sentence constituted a violation of his right to freedom of expression under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Anti-Choice Harassment Violates Women’s Fundamental Human Rights
But as the Center’s recent report Defending Human Rights: Abortion Providers Facing Threats, Restrictions, and Harassment points out, anti-choice harassment can make it difficult if not impossible for abortion providers to do their jobs, compromising women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
Our brief argues that Demers’ conviction did not violate his freedom of expression under either the American Declaration or international law.
Governments Can Restrict Freedom of Expression to Protect Human Rights
We also urge the commission to make it clear that governments have the right to restrict freedom of expression, within reasonable limits, in order to protect the fundamental human rights of women and girls, as well as the related rights of reproductive healthcare providers whose work ensures that women and girls have access to safe and legal abortion services.
While James Roger Demers v. Canada marks the first time that the U.S. Legal Program has submitted a brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Legal Program has been frequently involved in advocacy and litigation before the body.