- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Coming soon to a beltway near you: a convoy of trucks sporting gruesome billboards of aborted fetuses. Tiny, severed parts of first-trimester fetuses — placed next to coins to indicate their tiny sizes — will be displayed not just on sidewalks outside abortion clinics early on Saturday mornings, but on the nation's freeways for all eyes to see.
Next to images of their bloody remains will be the word "Choice" with a phone number and a Web site: www.abortionno.org.
Within the next 60 days, the message-carrying trucks will hit freeways surrounding San Francisco, San Diego, Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich., plus the Orlando and Miami areas in Florida, and Long Island and Manhattan, N.Y., "until the killing stops," says Gregg Cunningham, the California lawyer masterminding the effort.
The trucks will circle the Beltway during rush hour after making midday trips along Constitution and Independence avenues in the District.
In Southern California, the 9-week-old campaign has provoked angry calls, obscene gestures and several freeway near-misses, reported the Orange County Register.
"We're a car culture here," Mr. Cunningham told the newspaper. "If people are going to live in their cars, that's where we'll go to engage them."
The project, orchestrated by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., "represents a sea change in pro-life tactics," said Mr. Cunningham.
"We are moving from a small handful of activists displaying amateurishly small signs, occasionally, on only a few street corners, to a multimillion-dollar project involving huge commercial billboards seen on major freeways by hundreds of thousands of motorists in large cities across the country each day."
Feminist Majority Foundation Vice President Katherine Spillar, who is based in Los Angeles, says the campaign will accomplish only traffic accidents, "and make people mad. The typical abortion is done at eight weeks or less when we are talking about a pre-embryo the size of a grain of rice. Women know from their experience that those photos aren't what an abortion is."
But Mr. Cunningham says his campaign, which he planned for six years, went to plenty of trouble and expense to secretly take the photos in abortion clinics. It has hired and trained truck drivers, who wear body armor and helmets while driving the freeways, accompanied by teams of off-duty police officers. Video cameras on the trucks record every move. Each truck is fueled inside secret warehouses, to prevent vandalism.
The campaign merges several issues: free speech, the nation's ambivalence to abortion and the question of whether a zone of privacy includes the inside of one's car.
Columnist Nat Hentoff, a former labor organizer who writes about free-speech issues, says it's logical that pro-lifers not backed by sympathetic news media have resorted to the nation's freeways. Anti-abortion speech has been heavily restricted outside abortion clinics, he said, citing Hill v. Colorado, the June 2000 Supreme Court decision that criminalized unwanted close encounters between pro-life activists within eight feet of women on their way to abortion clinics.
"The trucks are free speech," he says. "They are not doing anything but giving an opinion. The only real restriction of free speech is if you are advocating something illegal and those people are not. If people are upset, they can post a counter message on their own convoy of trucks."
Organizers say they are well within their legal rights to display the messages, but just in case, they have retained two law firms: the Life Legal Defense League in Napa, Calif., and the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice in Ann Arbor.
"We've done a study of the history of social reform and every movement that has succeeded in this country in the past 150 years has used horrifying pictures to dramatize social injustice ignored by the dominant culture," Mr. Cunningham says. "Abolition of child labor, the anti-Vietnam movement, the civil rights movement, animal rights; using pictures is what changes public opinion. You will always antagonize the culture using these pictures."
Why show first-trimester fetuses?
"That is when 90 percent of all abortions are performed," he says. "Until we can get a consensus that this is a baby, women will continue to have abortions."
Although the trucks will not operate near schools or other places where large groups of children gather, it is inevitable that some children will see the photos, he said.
"My wife and I were at Middle Tennessee State University last year and we saw a 3-year-old girl who was looking at one of our posters," he says. "The mother stood speechless in front of a picture of a 10-week aborted fetus. After a few minutes, the girl turned to her mother and asked, 'Mom, did the baby cry?' This girl realized this was a baby and something had happened to it."
The campaign "brings the focus back to the more extreme side of the anti-choice movement," said Stephanie Mueller, spokeswoman for the National Abortion Federation. "Not only do most people who see this campaign feel alienated by it, but even those who are opposed to a woman's right to choose do not support this type of tactic."
Cathy Cleaver of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said such displays could traumatize children.
"There are different ways to convey the truth about abortion and the humanity of the unborn child," she said. "If you show photos of the violence of abortion, there is a risk your audience will feel so insulted by your depictions, they'll dismiss you and your message."
The American Life League declined comment, but the Population Research Institute supported using the trucks.
"The depiction of the reality of abortion as a method of family planning may not be everyone's cup of tea, but reality is covered by the First Amendment," PRI President Steven Mosher said. "If reporters had freedom of access to family-planning centers, the American public would also be better educated about the violations against women's health that occur in those places."
The campaign is being funded by a steady flow of donations.
"There are pro-life people out there of high net worth who are desperate for something that works," Mr. Cunningham says. "People are tired of losing this battle and fighting battles that don't work well.
"But people feel this battle is winnable. Now they can dictate the terms of the debate and not be on the defensive. We will press our First Amendment rights to the hilt. We will put those images where we will have the greatest effect on the popular culture.
"We can't go on talk radio about this without being shouted down. But you cannot shout down these trucks. You cannot put them on hold or hang up on them. This is about engaging a culture that does not want to be engaged, about force-feeding facts into people who don't want to be fed."


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