By Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
The decidedly pro-choice president drew a reported crowd of 30,000 people to campus, meaning many more eyes than expected on the unavoidable, disturbing images set out by the group.
CBR’s huge displays, approximately 15-feet high and 30-feet wide, of aborted early pregnancy fetuses stood next to other hard-to-look-at visuals – including depictions of lynching, child abuse and the holocaust.
The images were so graphic they were qualified with signs in every direction: “Warning, photographs of genocide ahead.” A few yards from the main display a several members of the organization held 4-foot signs of aborted fetuses at later stages in pregnancy with the question, “Choice?”
“People call us extremists for showing pictures of this. We’re not the ones doing the abortions,” said Sarah Cleveland, director of outreach for the group. “We’re saying this is wrong. We’re saying we’re against this. That’s not extreme. Some people come and say how awful I am instead of being outraged that this is actually happening.”
She may have been putting it nicely.
Passersby sometimes yelled vulgarities at the people running the provocative display.
“F*&k you,” one college student yelled to each staffer individually, pointing to each as he walked by.
“What the f*&k do white men know about abortion?” asked one college-aged woman.
Another mocked the group, saying, “Praise Jesus,” although CBR had no visual religious displays, save an enlarged bumper sticker, “Co-exist,” with various religious symbols as substitutes for letters, under a photograph of a dead fetus.
Still, Cleveland judged the trip to Madison, arguably one of the most liberal campuses in one of the most liberal cities in the nation, as a huge success. Tens of thousands of young people saw the images during two days, prompting conversation as they waited entrance to Bascom Hill.
Cleveland said she had in-depth conversations with some people who may have not changed their minds but engaged in honest discussion. She said others were happy to accept the photographs as ugly reality and still held their pro-choice positions. A few offered their support.
At least there was a discussion, the end that Cleveland said the group immediately seeks when it visits college campuses.
That’s more than could be said for the first presidential debate focused on domestic policy.
The ‘A’ word never came up Wednesday night in Denver.
Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri, pushed the issue into the spotlight in late August with his science-be-damned ‘legitimate rape’ claim, asserting that pregnancy can’t occur as result of rape.
Democrats hounded Akin for weeks and tried to tie his comments to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s running mate and congressman from Janesville. Akin’s comments became the cause celbre headliner for the Democrats’ claim that Republicans are waging “a war on women.” But it has since virtually disappeared from the national conversation.
According to recent Gallup polls, conducted Sept. 24-27, on abortion views, and another on May 3-6, 44 percent of registered U.S. voters who participated in the polls say abortion is one of many important factors when choosing a candidate. The poll found 34 percent of respondents say it’s not a major issue. And 17 percent of those polled say a candidate must share their views on abortion to earn their vote.
The margin of error in both polls, involving 1,446 adults and 1,024 adults respectively, was 3 percent and 4 percent.
The majority of Americans agree with Mitt Romney’s position that abortion should be illegal in most cases, excepting rape, incest and the health of the mother, according to the same polls.
Romney was pro-choice running for U.S. Senate in 1994 and governor of Massachusetts in 2002. He’s changed his position since at least 2007, when he began his campaign for president.
Cleveland said she wished more Americans would follow Romney’s change of mind.
President Obama, meanwhile, is attacked by the right as an extremist on the issue.
“He’s the most pro-abortion president that we’ve ever had. When he was senator in Illinois, he voted four times to not protect babies that were born from botched abortions,” Cleveland said.
“They tried to pass a law where a baby, if born from abortion and lived through that procedure, those babies were left on a table like a fish out of water waiting to die,” she said.
And she’s correct. National Review, a conservative magazine, ran a fairly thorough analysis of Obama’s abortion voting record as Illinois senator, and his explanations for his votes.
“…State Senator Obama’s opposition, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, to successive versions of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, an Illinois bill that was meant to provide protection for babies born alive after attempted abortions. The bill gave them protection as legal persons and required physicians to provide them with care, rather than allowing doctors to deal with them as they would, literally, with medical waste.”
The president did not raise the issue in his speech in Madison following the debate. His campaign did not return requests for comment.
At the Democratic National Convention last month, the party adopted as part of its platform:
“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.”
The Republican Party, as it has done in the past, outlined a platform calling for a ban on abortions.
“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” said the draft platform language approved at the GOP national convention in August. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
The candidates may not be talking about abortion issues, but pro-life and pro-abortion groups are.
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website includes a feature on “How to Talk to Your Friends about Mitt Romney.” The blog post includes the “top five things you should tell your friends about the Romney-Ryan ticket. No. 1 on the list, Romney says he supports overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally.
National Right to Life on its website counters that Obama is “far out of touch” with mainstream Americans on the abortion issue.
“His administration has relentlessly attacked the pro-life position, and has fought all protections for unborn children …” the website asserts.
Both sides of this wedge issue have spent considerable time and money trying to get out the vote. Wisconsin Right to Life has rolled out an Ask2 initiative, calling on pro-life supporters to ask two pro-life friends, “Will you be voting with me for Romney-Ryan?”
Pro-choice groups in Wisconsin and nationwide have vigorously pursued early voting initiatives, targeting independent women voters in particular in battleground states like Wisconsin.
Cleveland said many in the pro-life movement are concerned about the silence surrounding abortion in this presidential election year — a year in which the economy, unemployment and health care have hogged the limelight.
“But I’m not too greatly concerned because I know it’s a divisive issue,” she said. “I’m not ignorant to the fact that in the next four years he (Romney) (isn’t) going to overturn Roe v Wade, but I think he can take steps moving in the right direction.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]