Published Online: March 12, 1997

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Anti-Abortion Protesters Target High Schools

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Anti-abortion activists demonstrated outside high schools in dozens of cities last week, carrying placards showing graphic photographs of bloody fetuses in an effort to dissuade teenagers from having abortions.

Operation Rescue, the Dallas-based group that organized the campaign, said activists picketed in 120 cities, though that number could not be confirmed last week. Newspaper accounts described about two dozen protests, including demonstrations in Beverly Hills, Calif.; Dallas; Madison, Wis.; Melbourne, Fla.; and Seattle.

Operation Rescue, known for trying to block women from entering abortion clinics, has never targeted its demonstrations at students before.

"We are here to bring God back to school," the Rev. Flip Benham, the group's director, said last week. "We've tried the city councils, school boards, and legislatures, and this seems to be the only way in."

Police were on hand at most of the demonstrations, though by late last week there had been no reports of violence.

Mr. Benham said his organization had no fixed schedule of demonstrations but that he hoped local activists would continue marching at different campuses until the end of the school year.

Schools Take Precautions

In targeted schools, educators took steps to maintain order and cautioned against overreacting. Though many administrators found the protests inappropriate for students, they told school employees not to interfere with the demonstrators as long as they remained on public sidewalks.

In Chicago, Principal Arthur J. Mrumlinski was at a principals' conference at a downtown hotel March 3 when his secretary paged him about the dozen protesters outside John Fitzgerald Kennedy High School.

"I don't understand the purpose of these events other than publicity and shock value," Mr. Mrumlinski said. "We don't have a clinic here or distribute condoms."

In Denver, the principal of Abraham Lincoln High School heard about Operation Rescue's plans a day in advance. James Trevino said he warned students and teachers during the morning announcements not to confront the demonstrators. He also arranged for buses and parents to drop off children closer to the school, and set aside parking for reporters.

"I would suggest planning for problems and being prepared, but not to have police so visible that it appears you've drawn battle lines," Mr. Trevino said. "I think it's better to stay low key."

Students reacted in different ways. In California, students at Laguna Beach High School south of Los Angeles mugged for television cameras covering the event.

In North Bergen, N.J., some students spoke to demonstrators, while others discussed abortion among themselves. A few students at Kensington High School in Buffalo, N.Y., accepted Bibles and pamphlets; other students ignored the handouts and turned away from the 6-by-4-foot posters of bloody, aborted fetuses.

The photographs are a key part of the campaign, protesters said.

"If we let them see the horror of abortion, then we're successful," said the Rev. Terry Gensemer, who led about 20 picketers in front of a Birmingham, Ala., high school.

Graphic Messages

Demonstrators also handed out religious tracts and anti-abortion pamphlets aimed at children. In one cartoon drawing, a doctor at an abortion clinic describes the medical procedure in graphic and violent terms to a patient. Another girl at the clinic says she regrets "murdering her baby" and advises the patient to "turn to Jesus."

"Schools should not be forums for these kinds of issues," Mr. Trevino argued. "Even one of my teachers who opposes abortion said this is not the way to do it."

The abortion rate among teenagers has been declining in recent years because fewer girls are becoming pregnant and fewer of those are choosing abortion, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit group that studies reproductive-health issues. Teen-agers receive about 22 percent of the estimated 1.4 million abortions in the United States each year.

Some educators were crossing their fingers in hopes that the protesters would pass them by.

"We would really prefer not to have them here," said Loretta Hardge, the communications director for the District of Columbia schools. "We've got about 20 high schools, and I wouldn't know where to begin as far as getting prepared," she said. "I wouldn't want to start a panic."

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