Aborted-fetus photos: Should protestors be allowed to display them where kids might see?
Should abortion protestors be allowed to wave signs featuring "gruesome images" in places where children might see them? That's the question two Colorado anti-abortion advocates and the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a national pro-life law firm, want the U.S. Supreme Court to answer.
A protest in 2008.
"Children are getting pregnant or impregnating their girlfriends at very young ages and the idea that you keep this speech from them is something that is very, very debatable," says Tom Brejcha, society president.
The case started on March 20, 2005 -- Palm Sunday -- when Kenneth Scott, known for protesting outside Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Clifton Powell led a demonstration outside St. John's Cathedral in Capitol Hill "against what they see as the evils of abortion," according to the petition to the Supreme Court (on view below).
They chose Palm Sunday because they figured they'd reach people who don't go to church on other Sundays, and they picked St. John's because Scott believed the church was too liberal; the petition notes that "ex-President Bill Clinton" had once visited.
While the church held services outdoors that day, Scott, Powell and others "carried signs displaying, among other things, pictures of aborted fetuses," the petition says. Though they didn't violate any laws, "parishioners were bothered" by the protest -- especially since about two hundred children were in attendance. "Some parents withdrew their children from church activities because of concern over the demonstration," it says.
The church filed a lawsuit, alleging that the protestors were a nuisance and seeking an injunction to stop them from coming back. The Colorado District Court ruled in favor of the church and although the protestors appealed twice, an injunction still stands.
Kenneth Scott and his wife, Jo.
On Sundays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- and half an hour before any religious service starts and half an hour after it ends -- the protestors are barred from displaying posters "depicting gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies" that may be seen by children under twelve. They're also not allowed to shout in a way that would disturb church services.
The appeals court justified the injunction by saying it was "narrowly tailored" in the interest of protecting children, the petition says. But the protestors and the Thomas More Society think the whole thing violates the protestors' First Amendment rights.
"I'm not thrilled about people picketing churches," Brejcha admits, "but it's a free-speech issue, and the question is, 'Is it okay for government to impose this decree banning it?'"
The protestors believe the fetus photos are necessary "to show exactly what the abortion produces," the petition says. To back up their argument, they cite examples from history.
"Photographs of Holocaust victims similarly helped show the evil of Nazism in ways words could not easily convey," the petition says. It also mentions the case of Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955. "Photographs of Till's body in the coffin published in Jet Magazine became powerful images of the civil rights movement," it notes.
Lower courts have differed in how they've ruled in similar cases, Brejcha says -- which is why he'd like the country's highest court to weigh in. The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the case. "We think the law should be made crystal clear," Brejcha says.
Continue to read the petition.