Another Anti-Choice Hypocrisy: Freedom of Speech and Sex Education On Our Terms or Not At All


Anti-choice advocates are declaring it a victory for first amendment rights.  A 12 year-old girl who was asked by school administrators to remove a graphic anti-abortion t-shirt she wore to her elementary school sued, stating the action violated her free speech rights.

Now, two years later, the girl’s family has received a $50,000 settlement from the school district to, according to district officials, pay court fees to end the case, not to admit any wrongdoing.

The t-shirt was allegedly worn as part of American Life League’s “National Pro-Life T-shirt Day” action in 2008, according to the group.  On that day, students are encouraged to wear shirts to school that have anti-abortion statements in an attempt to “educate” other pupils about the importance of protesting abortion.  Yes, even in elementary schools.  Via California Catholic Daily:

[Attorney William J. Becker Jr. of The Becker Law Firm] Becker, assisted by the Thomas More Law Center, filed suit on behalf of [mother] Anna and [student] Tiffany Amador. “Public school students are not forbidden from proclaiming the value of life under the First Amendment. The school has done the right thing by avoiding a trial and allowing a judgment to be entered in favor of this student on all claims. All Americans, no matter their age, are free to exercise their constitutional right to speak out against the barbarism of on-demand abortion, and that includes public school students who do so in a non-disruptive manner.”

“Student speech at all grade levels is protected by the First Amendment,” said Becker. “With few exceptions, such as profanity and lewdness, the Constitution prohibits school officials from picking and choosing what messages they find acceptable and what messages they find unacceptable. The message of the shirt was that life demands respect. This is a particularly vital message for vulnerable young girls.”

It is important to speak to children, especially “vulnerable young girls,” at a very young age about abortion, even at schools, according to anti-choice activists.  Not only do they advocate t-shirts to start the discussion, but they have another day targeted specifically to young children in schools: Pro-Life Cupcake Day.

“What’s worse than being in third grade and not having anyone celebrate your birthday?” the website asks. “Not being allowed to be born,” it answers.  And what better way to make that point than by baking cupcakes to bring to school, then starting up a discussion about abortion over the confections?

From Cupcakes for Life:

Q.) What if my school won’t allow me to bring in cup cakes?

A1.) Give them out before or after school!

A2.) Do it anyway and be quick about it! Also be very apologetic and kind if you get caught.[emphasis added]

A3.) Ask for permission to bring in pre-packaged cupcakes from a bakery!

A4.) Just pass out flyers and make cupcakes after school and hand them out to your neighbors in the name of life. Whatever you do, don’t give up when confronted by opposition!

Q.) What should I say about abortion when I hand out my cupcakes?

A.) We really want to give you the freedom to say whatever you want but make sure you say something! If you don’t know why you are pro-life do a little research online. The website: Abort73.com is a great place to start. The point of this entire project is to not remain silent about abortion so as long as you say something and pass out cupcakes you have accomplished your mission!

They even provide specifics on best practices for elementary school children:

Ideas for elementary school kids:

Some kids are not ready to know everything about abortion; however, a mom could bake a batch of cupcakes that just say: I Heart Babies on them. The young student could go into class and tell all of his or her friends about how babies need lots of love as they slowly grow inside their mommies.

Wait…babies grow inside their mommies? That sounds suspiciously like…sex education!

But of course, that can’t be so, because all topics that might touch on sex need parental permission and no child should be subjected to it at school.  That includes any mention of contraceptive options, sexually transmitted disease avoidance, pregnancy prevention, or discussions of the human body and its functions.

After all, remember the uproar about the proposed idea of handing out condoms at an elementary school, followed by a counseling session regarding proper use as well as a discussion about abstinence? Parents were allegedly up at arms that their parental rights were being usurped, and the Massachusetts Family Institute was on the warpath defending them.

Kris Mineau, President, Massachusetts Family Institute, called the new policy “radical” and “absurd.”

“Making condoms available to first graders bullies parents to submit to an agenda that promotes sexual promiscuity to innocent children at their most vulnerable age,” Mineau said in a statement.

Mineau commented that the decision by the Provincetown School Committee “demonstrates the lengths to which some will go to emasculate parents’ rights …”

Or how about when an anti-choice District Attorney took it upon himself to threaten teachers with arrest for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” if they participated in the new age-appropriate sex ed classes being mandated by the state?  District Attorney Scott Southward went as far as to call teaching students about contraception a promotion of “the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.”

So there you have it.  The anti-choice paradox: discussing abortion in schools is a child’s right and should be done at any and every age, as long as that child is promoting an anti-choice agenda.  Discussing reproductive health, including anatomy, contraception, or protection from STI’s in a fact-based and age-appropriate manner, however, is at all times off-limits for school children of any age without prior approval from all parents and the promotion that the only acceptable choice is to be abstinent until you are married.

Now if only they could find a way to fit that slogan on a t-shirt.

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  • invalid-0

    Do you understand the difference between allowing children to display a message and making something part of the curriculum?  If a third-grade student wants to come to school with a message about condoms, they are subject to the same rules as a third-grade student who comes with a message about abortion.  Both have limited (because it’s a school) rights under the First Amendment.

    On the other hand, the curriculum of the school (i.e. sex education) is very much not a matter a freedom of speech.  It’s the function of a system; a conglomeration of state standards and school board policies.  You and I may argue until we’re blue in the face over what should be taught in a school – that’s our right as well.

    So unless you can show me an instance where a STUDENT’S right to freedom of speech regarding sex education was suppressed, I believe your article misses the point – or at least demonstrates a great misunderstanding of the First Amendment.

  • squirrely-girl

    I’d be interested in seeing the particular shirt in question. Quite frankly, if it’s graphic, violent, and/or bloody… well then that child should be told to change. Kids generally aren’t allowed to wear clothing with graphic, bloody, or violent messages on them. I don’t think this is unreasonable and everybody should be held to the same standard. At any rate, I generally don’t think 12-year-olds possess the moral and cognitive reasoning ability to actually take and defend an issue of this magnitude.

     

    If a third-grade student wants to come to school with a message about condoms, they are subject to the same rules as a third-grade student who comes with a message about abortion.

    So what you’re saying is that you’d be perfectly fine with Planned Parenthood organizing third graders to take condoms to schools and promote safe sex? What about a third grader who wears a shirt with, “I think abortion is awesome” across the chest? Should I be able to bake cupcakes with “I <3 Abortion” or “Pro-Choice” on them and send them to school with my child? 

     

    I think my biggest issue with the quoted materials was this line:

    If you don’t know why you are pro-life do a little research online.

    In other words, if you’ve been told by the adults in your life that you’re pro-life but have no idea what that really means, please read some of our child-friendly propaganda. :(

     

    Quite frankly I’m offended that the AC/PL side is attempting to circumvent First Amendment issues by organizing elementary school kids to do their bidding for them.

     

     

  • oodlenoodle

    Q.) What if my school won’t allow me to bring in cup cakes?

    A1.) Give them out before or after school!
     

    A2.) Do it anyway and be quick about it! Also be very apologetic and kind if you get caught.[emphasis added]

     

    Oh my god! Encouraging children to break the rules! Corrupting our youth’s values and moral standing!

     

    I shudder to think at what would happen if a “Pro-Choice Popsicle Day” encouraged children to break the rules like that. Yet we are the ‘amoral’ ones.

  • bbcaddict

    that I went through when I was a former “born again” pro-lifer.

    I shudder to remember how I was given strict instructions not to come back without at least X number of signatures and coerced into spouting off talking points that I didn’t really believe in.

    I look back on those days with a lot of shame and I could have used my time in school far more wisely.

    I abhor that these manipulative creeps are still getting children to carry their water for them.

    I’m with oodle noodle – imagine the OUTCRY if this was pro-choice t-shirt or popsicles or etc. etc.

    Let’s leave schools as institutions of learning please and keep their parent’s politics out of it.

  • invalid-0

    With regard to your comments about kids bringing pro-abortion shirts to school.  Our position is certainly to “bring it on”.  I wore those things in high school (uniforms in grade school), never had any problems.  If some kid comes to school with an “I <3 abortion” t-shirt or cupcake, the school’s censoring of that message will be the least of their problems, I imagine. 

     

    The pictures on the shirt in question were only ‘censorably’ graphic if you consider pictures of a growing child to be inciteful according to federal case law on the topic.

     

    Of course, you generally don’t hear about this problem with pro-choice students, which suggests one of two things: 1. There simply are no pro-choice students out there making the statement, or 2. The staff is selectively singling out the pro-life students.

     

    I think it’s short-sighted of you to assume that the youth on OUR side are brainwashed, and to consider our material propaganda.  Meanwhile, the youth on YOUR side are brave, standing up for what they believe in, and your material is pertinent, age-appropriate, comprehensive information.  That’s just my sense from reading your comments, squirrely – if you don’t think you’re overly biased about that, my mistake and I apologize.

  • derekp

    I’d be interested in seeing the particular shirt in question. Quite frankly, if it’s graphic, violent, and/or bloody… well then that child should be told to change.

    According to the news article that was linked in the post, this was the shirt in question.

    The shirt featured the word “ABORTION” over a series of panels, two of which depicted pictures of a developing preborn child and the third filled in with black.  The caption read, “Growing … growing … gone.”

    Isn’t that simply what abortion is in non-graphic terms? The fetus grows, then it’s gone from the womb. How is that graphic?  Tell me pro-choice advocates, what’s so odd about telling children that what this shirt describes hapens over 3,000 times each day in our country? Oh, and if someone says this is propoganda, please inform me as to what about the shirt is false.  Presenting a true message that is intended to help people challenge their own opinions is not propoganda.

  • beenthere72

    Yes, it is misleading propoganda.   The stage of development depicted in the 2nd photo is not the stage of development at which most abortions take place.    Not even close.    And if it were to be aborted at that stage,  it would be for medically necessary reasons.    

  • carolyninthecity

    I don’t think it’s ever too early to begin some form of sexual education- and by 6th grade kids should probably be learning at least the basics of a wide range of reproductive issues and choices. I think they can handle that. 

     

    However I question whether or not a 12-year-old could fully grasp the complex and intimate reasons and circumstances surrounding a woman’s decision to have an abortion. (unless maybe she was in the situation herself?)

     

    If she’s being told something  like “fetuses are the same as babies and abortion is murdering babies- wear this t-shirt!” then yes I would consider that brainwashing. I’m not saying a girl in 6th grade is not capable of educating herself on an issue she may be interested in, but being furiously passionate about it as she appears to be, I don’t think it’s totally unfair to assume there’s very strong influences (ie: her parents) at play.

     

    Considering she was in middle school, her “harmless” t-shirt could very well have alienated and shamed some of her female classmates who might have actually had an abortion. (I knew a girl who got pregnant in 7th grade).

  • squirrely-girl

     

    If some kid comes to school with an “I <3 abortion” t-shirt or cupcake, the school’s censoring of that message will be the least of their problems, I imagine.

    I’m not following, what do you mean?

     

    I think it’s short-sighted of you to assume that the youth on OUR side are brainwashed, and to consider our material propaganda.  Meanwhile, the youth on YOUR side are brave, standing up for what they believe in, and your material is pertinent, age-appropriate, comprehensive information. 

    Arex, I’m honestly more than open to constructive criticism. But yes, I make a distinction between an articulate 17-year-old actively pursuing extracurricular educational opportunities, working as an activist in their community, and writing passionately about their position and a 12-year-old wearing a t-shirt somebody else made for them to school (and then standing back while the AC/PL crowd make it a 1st Amendment issue). 

     

    After looking at the t-shirt in question, I too, am critical of the fetal development depicted in the second photo. Deliberately misrepresenting fetal development to make a greater impact is propaganda. 

  • invalid-0

    if it were to be aborted at that stage,  it would be for medically necessary reasons

    ROFL.

  • invalid-0

    I’m not following, what do you mean?

    Don’t pro-choicers generally detest being referred to as “pro-abortion”?  I try to be considerate of that fact.  I would imagine that you generally don’t “<3″ abortion.  Obviously, you know my problems with it.  Why would a pro-choicer (anyone!) “<3″ abortion.  I would imagine there is another problem with that child.

     

    I understand your distinction, and I’ll grant you I’m speaking extremely generally about biases, so I’d be hard pressed to quote examples.  Just generally, I think you should be aware of them.  Generally speaking, it seems as though your consensus view of pro-choice youth is that they are informed and motivated, while pro-life youth are lemmings, echoes of outdated views. 
    If you want to paint with such a broad brush, that’s your own mistake, but I would advise against it.  I believe it was only a few weeks ago that several RHRC writers were discussing the comments of a Newsweek article that lamented the heavy youth advantage our side has. 

    an articulate 17-year-old actively pursuing extracurricular educational opportunities, working as an activist in their community, and writing passionately about their position

    Honestly, having been very involved in organizing youth on high school and college campuses for about four years, I’ve never met one – other than your two RHRC correspondents.  I know I’m not looking for them, but none of our groups have competition on their campuses, that’s all.

     a 12-year-old wearing a t-shirt somebody else made for them to school

    She’s the one with the lawsuit, but mostly those shirts are for high schoolers.  You know, those 17-year-olds actively pursuing extracurricular educational opportunities, working as activists in their community, and writing passionately about their position?

  • squirrely-girl

    Don’t pro-choicers generally detest being referred to as “pro-abortion”?  I try to be considerate of that fact.  I would imagine that you generally don’t “<3″ abortion.  Obviously, you know my problems with it.  Why would a pro-choicer (anyone!) “<3″ abortion.  I would imagine there is another problem with that child.

     

    Fair enough. How ’bout something a little less direct… maybe “Trust Women.”

    Generally speaking, it seems as though your consensus view of pro-choice youth is that they are informed and motivated, while pro-life youth are lemmings, echoes of outdated views. 

     

    Honestly, having been very involved in organizing youth on high school and college campuses for about four years, I’ve never met one – other than your two RHRC correspondents.  I know I’m not looking for them, but none of our groups have competition on their campuses, that’s all.

    Let me say that my personal interactions with youth who consider themselves pro-life has also tended to be limited, generally to those protesting and hounding me for signatures or seeking to convert me. Every chance I’ve had to interact with them, however, I’ve asked them about their motivations and reasoning for being pro-life – in a totally non-confrontational tone and manner – I’m not mean to kids :). And let me say, I’ve been overwhelmingly dissapointed with the responses as they’ve generally failed to get beyond the rhetoric and support their position with a real opinion. This is problematic to me and suggests they haven’t really put a lot of effort or thought into understanding why they’re personally pro-life. Maybe it’s their age, who knows? But I take real issue with children taking stands on highly volatile issues for which their generally limited cognitive abilities aren’t ready to fully appreciate. More specifically, I take real issue with the adults in their lives promoting their involvement in movements (sending them to school in shirts and with cupcakes) before they can form opinions for themselves. This is similar to the issue I have with children confirming or taking on adult roles within organized religion as well. But to each their own. 

     I believe it was only a few weeks ago that several RHRC writers were discussing the comments of a Newsweek article that lamented the heavy youth advantage our side has. 

    I’ve  given this concept a lot of thought recently and get a little uncomfortable not because these kids came to that specific position but because your side tends to indoctrinate quite young and promote activism and “preaching the word” pretty much straight out of the gate. Quite simply, as a developmental psychologist I’ll let you in on a little secret… kids are easily trained and particularly responsive to social reinforcement and if you get children young enough, you make them believe/say anything you want. Seriously. The Nazis and White Supremacist organizations (most fundamentalist orgs actually) are pretty good at it actually. But just because a kid learns to say something early and consistently doesn’t mean it’s right. If you’ve never had a chance to see Jesus Camp, I highly recommend it. Fundamentalist Christians like that scare me. And while I’m absolutely certain that individuals such as those do not represent everybody on the AC/PL side, they speak very loudly and represent themselves as such. So when people like me are wary of the stance of children on “your side”… please realize it’s not completely out in left field… particularly when some people on that side are more than proud to acknowledge that they’re “getting them young.”

     

    Similarly, a big part of the pro-choice mentality is “live and let live” which doesn’t exactly translate to child activism. I live as an example and I’m raising my son to be tolerate of differences and other people’s choices on how to live their lives. And if or when he decides he’d like to be active in any movement, I’ll be as supportive as I can in his decisions. 

     

    She’s the one with the lawsuit, but mostly those shirts are for high schoolers. 

    Great for those high schoolers and I’m more than happy to wish them the best with their work. But I really do take issue with that girl’s age. 

     

    Please, don’t get me wrong, there have been a few people here as well as more than a few people IRL that I’ve differed in opinions with but wholly respect them in their different opinions because they’re not forceful. As in, they have personal beliefs but recognize them as such and don’t expect everybody else to follow suit. Similarly, I’ve mentioned before that personally I chose life, and barring rape or severe medical complications, I would most probably do so again. My personal moral beliefs don’t always line up with my political beliefs because I recognize my personal moral beliefs to be just that… MY personal beliefs. And I’m not so narcissistic or self-righteous to expect the rest of the world to follow my personal moral beliefs and quite frankly, I trust people to do what’s best for them in their own situations. 

     

    Edited to add: I honestly think it would be interesting to see a “new” side develop amongst youth today. One which took the “best of both sides” and sought to share truthful, factual information about reproduction and birth control, worked with young women who want to adopt, provided continued support for women seeking to raise the child as well, and were non-judgmental and supportive of those women seeking to terminate. I do believe there is a middle ground… and it’s more likely to be found by youth. 

  • squirrely-girl

    Maybe that should read: it should be for medically necessary reasons.

     

    I won’t pretend that unscrupulous doctors just don’t exist. As humans we are fallible and unethical physicians exist in every specialty (Mengele anybody?). I’m absolutely certain that abortion is no exception. But it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t judge an entire field or all providers by the actions of individuals.