Anti-choice protesters are targeting high schools now

The "pro-life" movement goes after teens -- at their schools

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 22, 2014 6:25PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

High school is bad enough without a bunch of antiabortion protesters standing outside, making it awkward. But here they come.

As NPR's WOSU reports Monday, an Ohio pro-life group called Created Equal has been demonstrating at Gahanna-Lincoln High School, holding up "large, graphic signs of fetuses" as students board school buses and cross the street. Group director Mark Harrington has vowed it will hold similar demonstrations across all Columbus-area school districts throughout the school year. "This is where students, young people, are going to decide if they’re going to be sexually active," he says. "They’re being taught about safe sex inside this school and many schools … They’re being taught about STDs. They need to be taught about abortion." What better way to teach than with bloody photographs? And you, random self-appointed stranger, are just the one to do it!

The high school as abortion protest battleground is becoming an increasingly common school year theme. Last week, parents in Little Elm, Texas, took a stand against a sole crusader from the Abolitionist Society of Little Elm who'd been standing on the corner outside the local high school flaunting graphic images of aborted fetuses. Todd Bullis said he was just "trying to expose this injustice, the way we exposed child labor, slavery, civil rights issues, Vietnam War," but parents calling themselves the "goofy sign brigade" saw differently, and began their own counter-demonstrations. Even students who aren't pro-choice found themselves caught in the middle – as one senior told the local CBS news, "I think abortion is completely wrong -- and the pictures on his sign are not something that should be in front of a school." And last spring, parents in Oklahoma took a stand when the group Abolish Human Abortion showed up outside the Norman North High School brandishing what one parent called "horrible graphic images." The Norman School district had to ask state and local law enforcement for a "reasonable buffer zone" to protect the students. Chillingly, Minneapolis author Robin Marti told WOSU Monday that with more and more clinics that provide reproductive services shutting down, anti-choice groups are now targeting their protests toward high schools as alternative venues.

Whatever one's personal beliefs about choice, let's just be clear that this is not about educating students. This is about intimidation. This is about aggressive, unwelcome tactics, aimed at schoolchildren. It's about trying to get attention in the worst way. It's about provocation. Earlier this year, a University of California at Santa Barbara professor took the bait when a group displaying "overwhelmingly bloody and gory pictures" showed up on campus, and after a heated altercation it was the professor, not the protesters, who wound up sentenced to community service. That's why it's important to demand that students be protected from these bullies, but not engage directly with them. And if you want an insight into the arrogant mind-set it takes to set up shop outside a school and attempt to emotionally manipulate and shock a bunch of teenagers, just take it from Mark Harrington himself, who says, "I’m a parent and I completely sympathize with parents who don’t want them to learn this kind of thing. But if they want to stop us from coming out here, then let’s stop the killing."

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abortion High-school Reproductive Choice Teenagers