Buff Hukle was driving along Rock Road recently when she stopped for a red light at 21st Street.
"Oh, my gosh, what is that?" her 10-year-old son asked, looking out a window. "It’s a bloody baby. What’s abortion? What is it, mom?"
Hukle looked to see what her son was referring to—and was startled to see a graphic photo of a dead infant on the side of a truck.
"It was very jarring for me," said Hukle, who found herself scrambling to explain abortion to her son and his friend. "It made me very angry."
What Hukle saw is nicknamed the "truth truck," which has photos of what are claimed to be aborted babies on its side panels. The truck has been a periodic visitor to Wichita in recent years, coinciding with protests by abortion foes.
Now it calls Wichita home.
Operation Rescue West leader Troy Newman has moved to Wichita and brought the truck with him.
Newman said he plans to use the truck as a focal point in efforts to halt the abortions that take place at Women’s Health Care Services on East Kellogg. The clinic is owned by George Tiller, a doctor who has long been a target of abortion opponents because he specializes in late-term abortions.
"What we’re about is closing abortion clinics—making abortion so repulsive and unavoidable to the community that he would rather move or quit than stay in business," Newman said, adding that he believes the truck constitutes "peaceful, nonviolent, direct action."
The truck regularly drives past Tiller’s clinic and parks near Reformation Lutheran Church, where Tiller attends services. The truck, and protesters who carry similar signs, have upset members of the congregation and their children.
"We encourage people to pay as little attention as possible to the demonstrators," said Sally Fahrenthold, interim pastor at Reformation Lutheran. "They’re simply making people angry at them, rather than winning people to their particular cause."
The images on the truck are meant to be offensive.
"These graphic photos do exactly what we expect them to do: to break people’s hearts for the children," Newman said. "It strips the veil of respectability off of abortion. It brings it right down to the guttural level: It’s murder."
The Rev. Paul O’Callaghan, pastor of St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, near Reformation Lutheran, said he understands the idea.
"It’s a bold statement. This is the actual reality of what abortion is," O’Callaghan said.
But he, too, wonders if the images help the cause of abortion opponents.
"I tend to think the images are so grisly that people’s reactions are to turn away and not confront the issues that are involved," he said.
Graphic photos are being used more and more around the country by abortion opponents, said Donna Lippoldt, administrator for Operation Save America.
"It is kind of a dichotomy—we have to see the truth," Lippoldt said.
"Because we’re such a visual society, the pictures are necessary."
Still, Lippoldt said, she’s concerned about how the truck is used.
"I’m convinced you need to use discretion with it," she said. "I don’t think it should just go anywhere at any point in time."
Hukle and others say they want the truck banned from driving the streets.
That can’t happen, Wichita Police Department spokesman Janet Johnson said.
"It’s not illegal," Johnson said.
Laws prohibit the public display of pornographic images but that ban does not apply to the graphic images of aborted fetuses, she said.
Mayor Bob Knight said he doesn’t blame those who want the truck ordered off the streets.
"I think it’s brutalizing—it brutalizes children," Knight said. "To change minds, you have to change hearts.
"From my point of view, while I am every bit as pro-life as anyone else making the claim, I would rather see signs of flowers, of birds, of children. I would rather see people—instead of simply protesting—get about the business of helping women at their point of need, ultimately allowing them to have babies: finances, health care, food, adoption services...."
Newman said he uses the trucks because experience has shown it changes the minds of people who view abortion as a philosophical issue instead of a real-life one.
Priests for Life, a national organization against abortion, has also encouraged using photos of aborted fetuses to drive home what happens in the clinics.
"No longer will it be kind of an abstract theory; it will be an absolute:
It’s a bloody baby every time," Newman said.
The truck will drive around the country for special appearances—it’s in the Waco, Texas, area now while President Bush is spending time at his home in nearby Crawford—but will be in Wichita otherwise, Newman said.
"We realized this city is the main focus for the anti-abortion movement in the country," he said.
"If we can bring George Tiller to repentance, then certainly the pro-life movement has accomplished a great goal.
"We’re just getting started."
Tiller did not respond to requests for comment.