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Truckin’ Against Abortion

By Michael Betsch

CNSNews.com Editorial Assistant

August 06, 2001

(CNSNews.com) - The pro-life movement has taken its message to America’s highways with the goal of exposing "the evil of abortion," the Los Angeles-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s (CBR) website explains. The vehicle for displaying the CBR’s Reproductive Choice Campaign’s (RCC) message is none other than a fleet of box-body trucks with billboard-size color photos featuring aborted first trimester fetuses on all four panels of the trucks’ containers.

"Since abortion advocates love to talk about choice," the CBR website states, "it is time for the entire world to see what that choice does to unborn children."

The graphic depictions and poses of fetuses aborted in their first trimester, according to the CBR, "make it impossible for anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty to maintain the pretense that ‘it’s not a baby’ and ‘abortion is not an act of violence.’"

The CBR explains that its purpose is to make abortion "impossible to trivialize." The organization cites a Centers for Disease Control report that "some 90 percent of abortions are committed in the first three months of pregnancy."

Declaring a "guerilla war" against abortion, the CBR stated in a press release, "We respectfully refuse to allow people who are not pro-life to cover up the truth about abortion. Those days are gone and we will not go back."

CBR truckers "wear SWAT body armor and carry military-style ballistic helmets in their cockpits during convoys. Their vehicles are equipped with video cameras fore and aft. And two-man contingents of off-duty police officers accompany them in unmarked police-style vehicles," according to the Orange County Register.

The truckers, however, are not the only activists dressed in black. Priests for Life have partnered with the CBR.

Priests for Life is "an officially approved association of Catholic Clergy who give special emphasis to the pro-life teachings of the Church," according to the organization’s website.

According to Fr. Frank Pavone, a member of the CBR’s board of directors, "Priests for Life, as an organization, has participated in strategic planning with CBR for years, and has done research, as has CBR, about the dynamics of social reform movements.

"Those dynamics," Pavone said, "clearly involve exposing the injustice which those movements fight."

In the face of public controversy, the CBR maintains that the Reproductive Choice Campaign "is a tactic which is consistent with mainstream campaigns of social reform." The organization hopes its RCC campaign will help reform "an unjust status quo which is being defended by political liberals."

The Reproductive Choice Campaign, according to a press release posted on the CBR’s website, "will be used to disturb the nation until the stress becomes unbearable. Because the news media, entertainment media, education establishment, clergy, etc. are suppressing the truth about what abortion is and does, we will bypass these gatekeepers and take our message directly to our target audience."

The first fleet of CBR trucks began rolling on June 25 and has operated every business day since then on the freeways of Southern California. There are also plans to expand the trucking convoy in California and throughout the nation by the end of the year. A CBR press release maintains that this is a "long-term project which will continue indefinitely."

On the freeways of California alone, according to the CBR, data compiled by the California Department of Motor Vehicles "suggests that during rush hour, up to 50,000 people per hour will view the pictures displayed on each of our individual trucks."

The CBR views freeway commuters as a "captive audience" and "where viewers can neither turn the page nor change the channel." The campaign is intended to create a disturbing picture in the minds of abortion rights advocates every time they hear the word abortion, and according to a CBR press release, "Those with a functioning conscience will eventually change their points of view."

In order to avoid any legal problems, the organization prepared for its Southern California campaign by "thoroughly researching traffic laws and by sending more than 100 pre-emptive letters to district attorneys and police chiefs throughout the region." The CBR proceeded to threaten litigation if anyone interfered with its First Amendment rights, according to the Orange County Register.

The CBR website asserts that trucks "will not be operated near schools or at locations where large groups of children are likely to be present." Further, the organization states that it has taken "countless safety and logistical precautions" to make the campaign as "safe and effective a project as possible."

Jan Carroll, a Legislative Analyst for California Pro-Life said she would never rule out using such pictures to tell a story. "The pro-life movement, over the 28 years that I’ve been involved, has always used pictures to show the victim of abortion, or the victim that is most likely to be ignored," Carroll said.

"No one could doubt the impact that pictures had from Kosovo and Vietnam. They can actually change a country’s position on important matters," she added.

One month and one day after the California campaign began, CBR Director Gregg Cunningham announced that Southeast Michigan is among the first areas targeted for expansion "because major donors, whom he declined to identify, asked that it be," the Detroit Free Press reported.

Amanda Peterman of Right to Life Michigan explained that CBR "secured the donations nationally, and then I think some of their donors have asked them to bring the campaign to certain states—maybe based on where their donors are or want to see the campaign brought."

"They haven’t approached us," said Peterman, "and I don’t think they have with any Right to Life affiliate around the country." Peterman added that the CBR’s lack of communication between like-minded groups is "not bad or good, I just don’t think it’s part of their campaign."

A Michigan chapter of Planned Parenthood located within CBR’s September target zone sees the Reproductive Choice Campaign rooted in scare tactics. "Their goal, obviously, is to scare women; scare particularly, I’m sure, young women and give them an impression of what abortion’s about," said Margy Long, director of development for Planned Parenthood Mid-Michigan Alliance.

"I think it’s unfortunate," Long said, "that anybody wants to use scare tactics and what I think is exploitation to try to prove their particular political point of view."

Regardless of any future invitation to team up with CBR, Pam Sherstad, director of public information for Right to Life of Michigan said, "That is an area that we would not pursue."

Likewise with Right to Life Michigan, whose spokeswoman, Peterman, said the truck campaign "isn’t something that we would choose to do as part of our educational efforts."

Pavone acknowledged that children will be able to view the aborted fetus images on the trucks, but said, "The First Amendment protects our speech (verbal and graphic), even when it is offensive and even when children may see it, as various Supreme Court decisions have held."

Carroll dismissed the notion that the trucks are inappropriate for children to view, stating, "Our children are so over-exposed to ugly [images] today that it’s hard to see that telling them the truth about abortion and having them see the truth about abortion would be much worse than most of the movies they’re seeing at the local theater."

Carroll also believes the billboards on the trucks may change the minds of some women contemplating abortion. "I guess we’ve always believed that if there actually was a window to the womb, that it would be very difficult for most women to destroy the children they’re carrying."

Long disagrees with Carroll’s assertion. "I don’t think that any woman who’s contemplating what to do about an unintended pregnancy doesn’t know that there is a developing fetus in her uterus. So, it’s not something that women don’t already know about," Long said. "[However,] we have to remember that this is a developing pregnancy and it is not the same thing as a child," she added.

[Note from Fr. Frank: It is noteworthy that not a single person who has expressed to us their disagreement with the use of graphic images has expressed any evidence that this approach does not work.]

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172 • Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. 888-735-3448, (718) 980-4400 • Fax 718-980-6515
mail@priestsforlife.org