Children used more often in anti-abortion protests

Published July 12, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

When the police finally came, Joshua Foreman wasn't surprised, and he wasn't afraid. He had been expecting them.

Trained in the art of civil disobedience, he didn't make it easy. He went limp, forcing the police to drag him across the pavement, hoist him up and handcuff him for the ride to the booking desk.

Joshua Foreman is 9 years old.

A devoted anti-abortion protester and the veteran of six arrests, Joshua came to Milwaukee determined to shut down clinics or be arrested trying. In one short week of demonstrations, he succeeded in being taken into custody three times.

"If babies are really in there being ripped to shreds, I've got to stop it," he said.

Joshua Foreman is part of a new phenomenon in the crusade to stop abortion: child protesters who lead the charge on clinic doors.

Their parents say the youngsters are independent-minded Christians who have decided they cannot stand by while abortions continue. Their critics, from the abortion-rights side of the debate, say the kids are just impressionable children exploited by a movement that's having trouble turning out enough adults to fill the ranks.

"Parents are getting their kids to do their dirty work for them," said Jane Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Clinic Protection Coalition, as she stood outside an embattled Planned Parenthood office.

But the children on the protest lines insist they're nobody's pawns.

"Kids our age can go in there and have abortions," said John Stenson, 13, of Waukesha, Wis., as he sat in a Milwaukee downpour at 7 a.m. holding a "Stop Killing Babies" sign. "We can make up our own minds."

A corps of about a dozen children, members of a Marietta, Ga.-based brigade called Youth for America, tour the country to "rescue" the unborn. Often, the children travel without their parents, who sign a letter giving custody to another adult protester.

Rarely have children been so visible in American social movements _ and they've never taken so active a role, said Margo Anderson, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Over the past year, the youngsters have "rescued" in Atlanta, California, and Wichita, Kan., and some are now at protests in Baton Rouge, La. Later this month, they will be back in Atlanta. In each city they visit, local children join them on the lines to confront the abortion-rights supporters, whom the kids call the "pro-aborts."

In Milwaukee, juveniles were arrested in numbers never before seen in the abortion conflict: 31 one day, 15 another. Of more than 400 people taken into custody since the protests began June 16, about a third were under 18, a police spokesman said. The youngest was a girl of 7.

It's a clever, cheap strategy, abortion-rights supporters say. And the Youth for America newsletter, aimed at "radically saved young people who believe abortion is murder," notes as much. The children are arrested one day and back on the lines the next without even having to pay a fine.

But Anne Foreman, mother of Joshua and four other children, said the protests are no strategy, just a youngsters' crusade.

Joshua had come to Milwaukee from his home in Marietta with his siblings and parents, who waited for hours after his police encounters to claim him. "Obviously, I don't like it," Mrs. Foreman said of her son's arrests. "But the kids take the persecution and they just keep coming back.

"I can't stand between their hearts and God."

For as long as there have been public demonstrations, parents have been bringing their children along to marches and rallies. And abortion-rights backers certainly have carried their babies in parades and picket lines.

But the abortion protests are different, Anderson said. "They are in fact training the children to be in the vanguard."

"Here, you're essentially baiting the police to beat up on the child, and I think that's what has raised the issue about whether this is a proper use of children. These are provocative situations, and overtly provocative."

The numbers of children arrested, and their sophistication, took Milwaukee police officers and social service officials by surprise.

Before the protests began, the Milwaukee County Department of Human Services, expecting hundreds of adults to be arrested, had prepared to care for children orphaned as their parents were hustled off to jail. Instead, the agency found itself dealing with young arrestees whose parents were waiting outside.

In the first days of the protests, the police simply released the children _ who were charged with trespassing or disorderly conduct but had to pay no fine _ into the custody of their guardians.

"But then it became obvious to us they were going to use the children on a daily basis," said Capt. Darrel Rodgers of the Milwaukee Police Department's Juvenile Division. So the police began charging the adults who came to claim the children with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. After the child's second arrest, the adult was charged and taken into custody.

Operation Rescue fails

to break police line

BATON ROUGE, La. _ Abortion foes tried to storm a clinic Saturday at the end of a three-day siege, but police and a new $8,000 chain-link fence kept them out.

Abortion foes also jammed telephone lines at the Delta Women's Clinic in protests organized by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

None of the protesters who tried to storm the clinic was arrested, police said.

A car ran over the foot of a 13-year-old anti-abortion protester, police said. No charge was filed against the driver. Police estimated the crowd at 800, including abortion-rights activists.

Elsewhere on Saturday:

In Milwaukee, 46 people, including 16 juveniles, were arrested on disorderly conduct charges as hundreds of people on both sides of the abortion issue crammed sidewalks outside two clinics.

In Lawrence, Kan., about 2,700 abortion opponents rallied at Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas while about 1,200 abortion-rights supporters gathered nearby.

And in New York, abortion opponents vowed to use the Democratic National Convention as a national forum for their cause, while abortion-rights activists organized to keep women's clinics in the city open.