As a concerned citizen, I have visited the Georgia capitol many times to talk with our lawmakers about various issues. While recently advocating against a particularly harmful piece of legislation — House Bill 481, which would, if signed into law, effectively ban all abortion in Georgia — I found myself caught up in a debate over my First Amendment right to speak freely.
On March 7, 2019, I was at the capitol to express my concerns regarding the bill. Planned Parenthood was one of the organizations advocating against it, and they provided buttons for advocates to wear. I chose a button that read, “Don’t fuck with us. Don’t fuck without us,” followed by a Planned Parenthood logo.
But I was then approached by a Capitol Police officer and told to remove the button because it contained profanity. I was surprised and taken aback by this suppression of free speech. I was not doing anything disruptive. I was not chanting, yelling, touching anyone, or blocking anyone’s path. I immediately complied with the officer’s command.
I was dismayed about this order, because this button perfectly exemplified my feelings about this bill. Far too often, a predominantly male legislature makes decisions about women’s health without consulting women. As a result, we are forced to spend time advocating against a clearly unconstitutional ban on abortion that could literally kill women by causing them to seek unsafe abortion care.
At the same time, Georgia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the nation. Black women in Georgia have a maternal death rate more than three times the unacceptably high rate for white women. Lawmakers have consistently failed to implement meaningful solutions. All of this is a direct result of expressly going against the wishes of a majority of Georgia women (“don’t fuck with us”) and ignoring the voices of organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide meaningful health care to women across the country (“don’t fuck without us”).
I have a First Amendment right to express my anger about this bill through peaceful protest, so I sought the help of ACLU of Georgia to allow me to continue expressing my viewpoint. The ACLU of Georgia immediately took this case before a federal district court judge, who ruled it unconstitutional for the Capitol Police to ask protestors to remove buttons simply because the buttons contain profanity.
As a result, I have been able to continue protesting this incredibly harmful piece of legislation by wearing my button while advocating inside of the capitol. It is important that the free speech rights of citizen advocates are upheld every time we face our lawmakers. We have the right, maybe even the obligation, to express our views to our elected officials and hold them accountable when they resist the will of the people.