NC town warns residents of graphic anti-abortion photos as demonstrators arrive

The Town of Wake Forest warned residents this week about an anti-abortion protest planned through Friday in downtown with displays of graphic abortion photos.

The town said the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion group, had informed officials that the protest would be staged near the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We understand that CBR’s images may elicit an emotional response from some in our community,” the town said on its Facebook page, which typically is used to alert residents to road construction and town events.

“However, in an effort to be completely transparent and continue building trust with our residents, we are providing advance notice about what CBR has scheduled, along with an explanation of why their speech, though offensive to some, is protected under the Constitution,” the post said.

Sixteen people affiliated with the California-based group came to Wake Forest Wednesday to demonstrate. Some of them held large, full-color photos the organization says were taken of the remains of medical abortions some 30 years ago.

The non-profit group has used the photos in demonstrations for years, group organizer Jane Bullington said Wednesday, because its founder, Gregg Cunningham, believes images are the most effective way to show what he has said is the reality of abortion.

Before coming to Wake Forest, members of the group demonstrated with the same signs in Chapel Hill, according to a story in UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

Bill Crabtree, spokesman for the Town of Wake Forest, said the group demonstrated in the town years ago using the same images and that some residents complained. While the town could not prevent the demonstration, he said town officials decided this time to alert residents so they could avoid the area — and the posters — if they choose to.

“The group’s right to present its message along public streets and sidewalks is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the town said in a news release.

The town said the group was expected Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The town added that the organization is not related to the seminary.

Bullington said the group demonstrates near college campuses across the country because college-age women are statistically more likely to have abortions than women of other age groups.

She said demonstrators have one set of signs they use at secular colleges such as UNC and another set they use for religious-affiliated colleges and seminaries such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

While the images are the same — tiny, bloody hands, feet and faces, which the group says are fetal remains of an abortion — the posters used at religious universities add Old Testament scripture references about child sacrifice. Those are left out at secular schools.

Bullington said the group’s photo campaign is modeled on the success of photos used by early 20th-century anti-child-labor activists, and by civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Wednesday’s demonstration took place along a public street that runs through the seminary, where traffic appeared to largely be from students, instructors and staff at the school. One woman walking her dog stopped to talk to one of the demonstrators, telling him the images were offensive and could be emotional triggers for some people passing by.

Reactions to the town’s Facebook post were mixed, with some commenters thanking town officials for the warning. At least one said those who support abortion rights should look at the pictures.

Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.