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Anti-Abortion Protesters Block the Liberty Bell

The Huffington Post, May 29, 2008

My children, ages six and eight, don't know about the birds and the bees. But now they do know about abortion.

On our wholesome family trip to historic Philadelphia over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I took the kids to visit the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed. On every street corner on all sides of the historic district were anti-abortion protesters. I don't know if they were from Operation Rescue or a different fundamentalist Christian group. All I know is that they had billboard-sized photos of bloody, dismembered fetuses from late-term abortions (or possibly third-trimester miscarriages). And there was no way to cross the street without seeing those pictures.

My husband and I tried to avoid them. We saw the protesters as we approached, groaned to ourselves, and looked around frantically to find alternate ways to get to the sites. But there were no other entry ways. We were stuck. My six-year-old saw the pictures and screamed. He cried, trembling. We left the area to find a place for lunch, and he refused to eat a bite. An hour later we returned, and the protesters were still there. Finally, as we were finishing up our healthy dose of Americana, the protesters called it a day and left.

Both my kids were frightened but my six-year-old in particular has been distraught. He told his best friend at school that he went to Philadelphia, where he saw a picture of a dead baby on a fork. He has had trouble going to sleep. He is terrified that he could somehow wind up like an aborted fetus. I tell him he is safe, he has nothing to worry about, we will protect him. But the truth is, I can't protect him from vile political and religious rhetoric.

Yes, anti-abortion protesters have the right of free speech. But should they be allowed to traumatize children? They deliberately chose a spot that is a magnet for families with young children because, it seems, they want to scare children and give them nightmares, thereby winning over the parents to their cause.

Those of us who support reproductive rights consider abortion a sad but sometimes necessary option. We wish that more affordable and more effective forms of contraception were available so that abortions would become less frequent. We wish that all young people had access to comprehensive sex education so that they would know there are ways to prevent pregnancy aside from abstinence, which doesn't work.

Make no mistake about it: the ultimate goal of Christian anti-abortion activists is a nationwide ban on abortions at every gestational stage. Tellingly, they choose to represent only late-term abortions. Yet late-term abortions (after the twentieth week), the kind resorted to by only the most desperate women in horribly dire circumstances, account for only 1.2 percent of all abortions performed in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. Assuming that the pictures are in fact from abortions and not miscarriages, they do not represent typical abortions. Their value is political and religious, not educational.

I told my children that abortions are sad, but what is much, much sadder, what is in fact tragic, is that thousands of soldiers--people who were born and lived lives, with children and families--have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that they continue to die. Indeed, a memorial in honor of the soldiers across from the Liberty Bell was overshadowed by the anti-abortion protesters. What kind of Memorial Day was that?


Copyright © 2008 by Leora Tanenbaum. All rights reserved. If you want to reprint this essay, email your request to