View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Abortion IS a Civil Rights issue

Pro-lifers have been arguing that abortion is a civil rights issue - the rights of the pre-born are being denied.

In Birmingham, Alabama, with its checkered history of civil rights abuses of African Americans, some pro-lifers are contending that just being pro-life can make you target of civil rights abuses.

From Lifesite News:

By Kathleen Gilbert

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, February 16, 2009 ( - Members of a pro-life protest group have accused Birmingham police of violating their civil rights by bullying and arresting the group for peacefully spread their message on a public sidewalk.

According to a press release issued by the group, nine members of the Survivors Campus Life Tour were holding signs, dialoguing and distributing literature to students on a public sidewalk at Birmingham's Parker High School Thursday when police arrived in over a dozen squad cars and began to threaten the group with arrest unless they leave.

The group says they contacted their attorney, who assured them that their location on the public sidewalk and their free speech activity was legal, and so they continued their activities until police began arresting the members without explanation.

Members reported being treated with contempt both by police officers and jail guards. Kortney Blythe, 26, Director of the Survivors Campus Life Tours, claimed she was videotaping the event when an officer approached her from behind, pulled her arm behind her back, and escorted Blythe without explanation into a squad car. She joined Shara Guengerich, 18, whom the group says had also been detained without explanation while distributing literature. They said Guengerich was handcuffed so tightly that she was crying from the pain, but arresting officers ignored her requests for relief.

Survivors member Rev. Henry "Bud" Shaver, 30, said he was informed during the arrest that the sidewalk was not public property for "non-citizens of Birmingham".

Members claim that they were placed in holding cells for 6 hours without water or access to a phone despite requests, and that at least one member was shackled painfully at the ankles for hours despite his attorney's pleas for their removal. Rev. Shaver said he and the other male detainees learned that several of the jail guards also serve as security guards at a local abortion clinic.

The members were held overnight in the Birmingham City Jail and released early the next morning. Daniell Versluys, the Survivors' Director of Special Events, told (LSN) that the members were given no paper citations, only bond forms stating "Charge of Trespassing" with no penal code listed. Versluys also said that the group plans to publish their video footage of the incident on Youtube. It is uncertain whether either the police department or the Survivors will press charges.

A request to Birmingham police by LSN for information about the incident was declined.

Survivors Campus Life decried the civil rights violations suffered by their members at the hands of Birmingham police.

"We were arrested yesterday because of the content of our message," stated Blythe. "It's clear from the attitudes and actions of the police officers that our message of life is not welcome in Birmingham, and prejudice is alive and well in this city." Blythe called upon the Chief of Police to investigate the "horrifying civil rights abuses."

"I am in shock and disbelief that a person can be arrested for simply standing on a public sidewalk and handing out literature," said Allison Aranda of Life Legal Defense, the Survivors' legal counsel. "If there is any principle that is so deeply rooted in this nation's history it is the right of free speech, and it is shameful that those charged with upholding the law are in fact the ones that violated the Highest Law of the land today."

"The police officers of Birmingham have demonstrated a total disregard for both local laws and the Constitution," remarked Rev. Jeff White, founder of the Survivors. "It is ironic that young people participating in a project named after Dr. King's letter sit in the very jail he penned it from. Ironic and sad. ... Throughout their entire ordeal, these youths' first and foremost concern was to draw attention to the ultimate civil rights abuse - the murder of pre-born children."

To contact:
Mayor Larry P. Langford
Birmingham City Hall
710 20th Street North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203-2216
Phone: 205-254-2277
FAX: 205-254-2926

Charles Long
Executive Administrative Assistant to the Mayor
(205) 254-2609

To contact all Birmingham city councillors

To contact the governor of Alabama
Governor's Office Telephone Numbers
Switchboard:(334) 242-7100


I do not know this pro-life group - and I was not a witness to what happened. Perhaps the police have an explanation for the arrests - I know that protests near schools are often subject to restrictions. As for the treatment in the jail - that sounds like the treatment other groups and individuals have received in other jails. Abuse? A matter of perception? SOP?

I hope someone from the police department will step forward and give a clear and reasonable explantion of this incident - if there is one.

Or maybe an apology.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forget that in January 1998, Eric Rudolf murdered a policeman and maimed a nurse during a bombing attack which he claimed was a "right to life" action. While the Birmingham police may have over-reacted, Rudolf was not a lone over-zealous "right to lifer". There have been other domestic terrorism attacks in Alabama by groups claiming to be "right to life." Their sense of "life" seems limited to the fetuses of citizens, having also planned to massacre a number of immigrant workers about two years ago.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I don't forget such incidents - and I don't condone them.

Nor would I have condoned the actions of John Brown - but his actions did not alter the fact that slavery was wrong.

In the same way, the actions of violent loonies do not alter the fact that abortion is wrong.

The pro-life movement as a whole considers more than the life of the unborn - that charge is a bogus one repeated by pro-choicers. Repeating a lie may get some people to believe it, but that does not make it true.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it's not the "pro-life movement as a whole" that screams the loudest; it's the extreme edge. They don't seem all that concerned about anyone except the unborn. Radical is radical. Radical right, radical left; you'll get no reason from either side.

8:35 PM  

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