The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Moms rallied when protesters brought mangled fetus photos to Md. school

The Supreme Court justices have cops in body armor. These kids had moms carrying towels, blankets and umbrellas.

Parents at Oakland Mills High School came to campus to try to shield the graphic signs that abortion protesters showed to students on May 18. (Obtained by The Washington Post)
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They swooped in as soon as they heard, grabbing anything they could use as a shield.

“Random stuff from the average mom-mobile,” one of the crusading moms said. “Yoga blankets, oversized sweaters, beach towels” — anything to hide the mangled, bloody images that antiabortion protesters were waving at kids’ faces outside their Maryland schools.

“It felt like an assault on our school,” said Jennifer Domenick, a parent of 17-year-old twins at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md. “High-schoolers are carrying so much these days that it was completely inappropriate for these protesters to target a high school campus.”

These are the tactics of an anti-choice group that had been hitting high school and middle school — yes, middle school — campuses with their graphic depictions of fetuses as the nation braces for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This group calls itself “Created Equal.” They’re from Ohio and they wear body cams to record the kids and parents that they provoke. They’re careful to stand on public sidewalks and to ensure they’re in the sight line of children walking to and from class.

How much do anti-abortion protesters really care about children?

Their action in suburban Maryland this week came on the eve of Oklahoma passing the nation’s strictest abortion law on Thursday — outlawing any abortion, starting at fertilization.

Where are the pearl-clutchers now, who balked at protesters with rainbow flags and candles marching past the stately homes of Supreme Court justices after the leaked decision? The children of Howard County don’t have a phalanx of Kevlar-encrusted cops to protect them en route to Algebra II.

Though I’m not sure the protests at Supreme Court justice’s homes are productive, it’s jaw-dropping to hear these actions criticized when the antiabortion protesters have been doing guerrilla tactic, shock-value, emotionally abusive actions for years.

“The images of dismembered babies greeted students via bus and in cars as well as pedestrians coming from every direction,” said Amy Brooks, an English teacher and parent at Oakland Mills High School, where protests disrupted classes Wednesday.

“As a parent, I texted our family chat and gave everyone a heads up, and told them to ignore the protesters. After school, we debriefed over pizza and both of our high-schoolers were unmoved by the shock tactics employed,” she wrote in a Facebook post describing the incident.

“As a teacher, I opened each class with space to share feelings about the situation,” she wrote. Schedules that day had to be adjusted because the ruckus canceled some tests and triggered a school emergency drill.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball weighed in when the first set of protests descended on schools earlier this month.

“I’m disgusted by tactics of abortion opponents who are deliberately and needlessly subjecting our students to graphic images with the intent of shock,” Ball said in a statement posted on Facebook. “While I respect the rights of those who want to express opinions on critical topics, the scenes we saw today at Wilde Lake High School and Middle School and Howard Community College are not designed to inform. They are designed to drive wedges in our community, and we shouldn’t let that happen.”

The group posts edited body-cam footage on social media, part of a growing subculture of gonzo, conservative protesters who have questionable relationships with facts.

A similar group operating in the Philadelphia suburbs in 2017 prompted then-assistant principal Zach Ruff to attempt to shield his students from posters. He argued with the protesters to the point of profane anger and lost his job.

The protesters in Howard County did spark plenty of discussion, the teachers and parents said.

But not about abortion.

Brooks said she and the students recognized “the indecent way” the out-of-towners used their First Amendment freedom “as they lay in wait for children to be separated from their parents while entering a public school space they are required to attend.”

In every class that day, Brooks fielded questions from her students about the protest (again, not about abortion.)

Protesters at Supreme Court Justices' homes are misdirected.

They discussed the use of graphic images — such as mass graves in the Holocaust or of lynchings.

But the kids told her those images were about history and came with context. In class after class, the kids said the protesters’ images were out-of-context and not comparable.

I couldn’t agree more.

Nothing about these tactics is pro-child or pro-life.

They are meant to incite, not educate.

Then again, the discussions that teachers and students had about free speech, about protest, about the way to make a point, had some value.

And when those parents came in with their car blankets and umbrellas, they showed the kids the difference between a protest, and an assault.