Right and Wrong in Abortion Protests
Joseph Manning’s pro-life activities in Cranston evoke mixed feelings in me:
Joseph Manning agreed to take down the baby outfits he had hung in the trees.
They were part of an antiabortion display he puts up three days a week outside the Women’s Medical Center on Broad Street.
“That said the whole thing,” he said. “You know what I’m saying? The baby suits waving in the trees.”
But Manning, 74, won’t remove his signs, as many as 11 at a time, some that depict bloody, dismembered fetuses.
I do sympathize with parents’ desire to preserve what innocence in their children they can:
The clinic, which provides medical services, including abortions, is at the corner of Betsey Williams Drive, a street with enough children to hold its own Halloween parade.
Bobby Raposa sees the display from behind his picket fence. “I don’t like it at all,” he said, motioning toward his daughter, who was playing in the yard. “She shouldn’t have to learn this at age five, but I have to explain this because these people have pictures of dead babies on the street.”
The town would have a right to demand that pornographic posters be removed, even if they were displayed in protest of a bordello. (Of course, for the time being, such a business would be operating illegally; perhaps if Rhode Island’s sex workers unionize…) I’d also speak against a thrice-weekly open-air presentation of graphic images of terrorists’ beheaded victims, for example. But Mr. Manning does have a point:
Told of the neighbor’s concerns that children were seeing his signs, he motioned toward the clinic and said: “I understand. I relate. But there are children being killed in here. If you go on a scale of things, one is much worse.”
If a business were somehow legally euthanizing disabled kindergarteners, would our focus really be on protesters’ inappropriate signage? Of course, the broader society wouldn’t need graphic images to be disgusted by such a thing (at least not at present); the act itself screams in bold letters. Which makes me wonder whether Mr. Manning oughtn’t apply the same principle to abortion. How about one big sign with bold letters reading:
There are children being killed in here.
That would avoid the reflexive turning away, and personally, I would find it much more shocking, in its bare truth. It would also force those who object to address the message itself, not its delivery — unless they were to do so by requesting that it not be so blunt. That, actually, is one disturbing aspect of the Providence Journal’s report:
Elizabeth and Peter McStay were working in the yard in front of their house, white with green shutters. Peter McStay said, “it’s a tough thing. It’s a free country, but you don’t have the right to infringe upon my way of life.”
Exactly wrong. We can only allow ours to be a free country to the extent that we have the right to infringe upon each other’s way of life. Put differently, we can only dislodge government authority from the capillaries of our personal lives if we are allowed to influence each other through other means — if we are free, as individuals, to get as far under each other’s skin as the boundary between public and private will permit.
Me, I find it a discouraging sign that the apparent compromise between Manning and the town was to sacrifice the symbolism of flapping baby clothes for the gratuity of photographic gore.