Is Free Speech Unlimited?

By: Danielle Apfel

There is no denying that under the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, all Americans may enjoy the rights to Freedom of Speech and Press, amongst three other fundamental rights. These are some of the most important rights that Americans undeniably have, and are rights that not all people around the world are afforded. However, does one’s right to speech and press create an indisputable excuse?


The answer is no. The United State’s legal system recognizes factors such as slander and libel in civil cases, which elicits punishments in the forms of fines, damages, and injunctions for those of whom lie and convey damaging lies to the public – just as it is widely known that one cannot “yell fire in a crowded theater.” So, despite the freedoms of speech and press that are provided to all Americans, there are exceptions to the rule.


This being the case, where is the line between what is acceptable free speech and what is not? In recent protests against Planned Parenthood, an anti-abortion group has been releasing videos and audios from meetings with a doctor associated with the organization. However, members of this group, from the Center for Medical Progress, have edited the conversations and thus created the conversation they wanted people to hear.


As a series of these video clips have been released to the general public, falsely representing actions by Planned Parenthood, the organization focused on women’s reproductive healthcare has had to go on the defensive about actions that are not as inflammatory as the protesters would have us believe.


To combat these doctored videos, which were made under false pretenses and without the consent of the doctor speaking, Planned Parenthood went to the courts. This past Tuesday, a court ordered a temporary restraining order against the protesters from the Center for Medical Progress in order to halt the release of the altered videos. However, the anti-abortion group chose to ignore the court order under the pretense of “free speech.”


A leader from the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, has claimed that Planned Parenthood is hiding their illegal activity through the court system, and vigorously asserts that the injunction they ignored was an attempt at restraining their First Amendment rights as well as their investigative journalism. Though this claim may have some merit, in that journalists deserve the ability to publish what they research and discover, it is in regards to a manipulated conversation in which the subject was not informed she was being filmed.


It is a difficult line to balance, as individuals and groups do maintain the right to protest, speak out, and publish what they like. To inhibit them from doing so, on the basis of differing opinions would, yes, violate these fundamental rights. However, when the information that is spread is defamatory, altered, done without the knowledge of the subject, and altogether published in a way that misconstrues the conversation in a biased manner, should these rights truly apply?



Abortion has always been a contested issue since reproductive health became popular. Despite the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v Wade in 1973, which made abortions legal, the pro-life side stands firm in their beliefs. Over forty years later, and protesters continue to fight the decision in any manner they can think of. This use of manipulated events however, raises the question of what the parameters of free speech and press really are when national issues intersect with an individual’s rights.


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