Bill 2296’s Punishment of Speech May Lead Activists to More Violence to Make Their Voices Heard
Members of the campus community recently received an e-mail from UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block extolling the virtues of Assembly Bill 2296, a new law that restricts the speech of animal-rights activists (whom he calls “anti-animal research extremists”) in order to protect animal researchers. As this law moved toward passage, much was said about the fear animal researchers feel when confronted by protestors. By contrast, few have commented on the pain and terror experienced by animals used in experiments or have explained why there is protest against animal research at UCLA and other institutions in the first place.
Every day at places like UCLA, animals are subjected to excruciating, unrelieved pain as involuntary subjects in research experiments that have not been described or justified to the public. Researchers and the heads of experiments hide behind unsupported general claims that such research is necessary and productive for human health, but they offer no information by which the public can assess their claims as to specific experiments.
Therefore, the public has no information about the research that is being done or whether, in fact, any of it has led to or has the potential to lead to worthwhile advancements. Researchers and the heads of institutions like UCLA reject calls for transparency about the animal research that is conducted.
Because of the way research applications are reviewed and funded, it is highly likely that research dollars are wasted on useless animal testing and experiments. Funding might well have been more productively invested in research methods that bear actual fruit in advancing human health.
Animal researchers like to further argue that they are in complete compliance with state anticruelty statutes and federal laws that regulate scientific research on animals. However, as legally interpreted, neither state nor federal laws provide any protection to animals tortured at institutions like UCLA.
State anticruelty statutes define “cruel” as only the infliction of “unnecessary” suffering on animals. Scientific research is arbitrarily defined as “necessary,” which means that the infliction of even the most horrific suffering on animals falls outside the legal boundaries of the “anticruelty” statutes.
Federal law is no different. The Animal Welfare Act purports to regulate scientific research, yet the AWA covers only a very small minority of the animals used in research and explicitly states that none of its provisions can be used to impede or affect research design or implementation. The AWA does not prevent the infliction of horrific suffering on animals; it only creates paperwork for research scientists who need to provide minimal justifications for their unwillingness to provide pain relief or consider alternatives to animal-based research or testing.
Chancellor Block, a former animal researcher himself, praises AB 2296 for providing new protections for animal researchers, but animal researchers already have complete legal protection from violent conduct. That is why we believe that a primary purpose of the new law is to intimidate peaceful protestors; the first versions of the law were even more expansive in curtailing their speech. Even though AB 2296 was reduced in scope before it was enacted, it still punishes speech.
Given the history of law enforcement reactions to animal advocacy protests, we believe that such a law is likely to be abused by law enforcement officials who use their authority to intimidate peaceful animal activists into silence. It is animals – and the people who care about them – who are not sufficiently protected by existing laws.
Unfortunately, laws like this – whose focus is the speech of protestors – may actually increase violent acts against researchers rather than diminish them. When lawful speech is stifled by expansive use of such laws to intimidate protestors, activists concerned about imminent and ongoing violence against animals may feel the need to resort to methods other than speech to have their voices heard. That tragedy could be avoided with more transparency and more public debate about whether the extreme pain inflicted on animals is justified.