Last week, 17-year-old Morgan Richardson pulled into the parking lot at Enloe High School in Raleigh, where she encountered three anti-abortion protesters clustered near the building entrance holding signs plastered with photos of aborted fetuses.
Richardson, a senior at the public magnet school, wasn't happy. "Several of my friends were told they were going to hell," she said. "Students were harassed from the minute they stepped off the bus."
What Richardson and Enloe had encountered was a nationally connected protest movement that recently moved its operations to North Carolina. William Schultz, an anti-abortion activist and self-described "street Samaritan" from Raleigh, secured the permit for the demonstration on behalf of Respect for Life, a group centered in Portland, Ore. But Schultz is affiliated with the North Carolina-based Operation Save America, also known as Operation Rescue, a nationally prominent Christian anti-abortion group that now has its headquarters in Concord, N.C.
"The literature they handed out was riddled with fallacies and was racially targeted, as there were different pamphlets for white and black students," Enloe senior Jackson Bloom, 18, said. "They made inquisitions as to the religious beliefs of students passing by and had a huge depiction of Jesus."
The protesters distributed material from a Minnesota nonprofit, the Human Life Alliance, including a pamphlet called "Did You Know?" targeted at African-American students. "Abortion is the leading cause of death among African Americans," the alliance website reads. "'Did You Know?' is shattering the silence of this great tragedy."
But Dr. Trude Bennett, associate professor of maternal and child health at UNC-CH, said the alliance claims are misleading and incorrect. "Infant mortality and abortion are separate issues," said Bennett, "and combining these two issues in an opportunistic attempt to act as if they are the same is wrong."
Infant mortality, said Bennett, is the term to describe the death of a child within a year after he or she is born. "Abortion is not a cause of death," Bennett said. "To say 'leading cause of death' is a biased statement."
Ann Olson, education director of the Human Life Alliance, contends "Did You Know?" is "written by African-Americans for African-Americans" and "is generally distributed in churches and outside of abortion mills, usually where the highest percentage of women going in are African-American."
According to the 2006 Abortion Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whites account for the largest percentage—55.8 percent—of women having abortions, compared to 36.4 percent for African-Americans. But when the CDC examined the ratio of black women within their racial group, it concluded that "black women had higher abortion rates and ratios than white women and women of other races." These numbers tell only part of the story. Economic, geographic and societal disparities, including access to health care and contraceptive methods, often lead to unintended pregnancies in women of color.
Olson of the Human Life Alliance said the pamphlet is neither racist nor religious. The alliance calls itself nondenominational, but it distributes its materials to religious organizations and activists. The alliance website states that the organization has circulated 30 million copies of anti-abortion literature on high school and college campuses across the nation in the past 14 years.
This literature is paid for largely through charitable donations. From 2004–2008, the alliance received more than $2 million in contributions, according to federal tax documents. It spends about $400,000 annually on program services, including the publication of the pamphlets and magazines.
Among these magazines is one that was handed out by protesters at Enloe with articles titled "Just for Girls" and "Just for Guys." The articles advocate sexual abstinence, advising girls "to dress modestly" to "protect and assist the guys in your life who want to remain abstinent." Dressing seductively, Olson said, knowingly invites temptation.
The articles targeting guys contend that viewing pornography can lead to sex addictions, and one article compares men's sexuality to dogs reacting to a bell. Olson defended the articles as "good scientific research," but Enloe student Jackson Bloom said it is "disgusting" to compare men to animals incapable of controlling themselves.
Enloe principal Beth Cochran did not return calls from the Indy, but Richardson said Cochran did respond by e-mail to students who contacted her after the rally.
Richardson said she herself immediately reported the protesters to the school administration before heading to her classes. She said she was told that the group was not sanctioned by the school but had a permit to protest on the school's sidewalk—technically off-campus.
Gary Wall, who coordinates permits for the Raleigh Police Department, said groups of fewer than 10 people do not need a permit to protest in the city.
Richardson said the experience so disturbed her that she sent a letter to the Enloe administration, the Wake County school system, the Human Life Alliance, her congressman, local media outlets and the White House. "There are certain things I expect when I go to school in the morning. I expect to have to get up early. I expect to have to drive myself to school. I expect to arrive at school without incident," she wrote. "What I do not expect is to find, on the campus, right where the buses are letting off students for the day, a number of Human Life Alliance propagandists handing out pamphlets regarding abortion."
Olson claimed the alliance had received reports that the protest was well received by 95 percent of the student body. "The children or young people were very receptive to that literature," said Olson, "and they came back after they'd read the material with questions, and it wasn't until the school let a group of goth kids approach the protesters that there was a lot of controversy."
Olson did say she received one call from an Enloe student. "This little girl thought the material was offensive," Olson said. "But this is America and anyone is free to try and evangelize."
The prospect of more such evangelizing doesn't sit well with Richardson. "As students, we are legally obligated to be at school. This made us a captive audience and easy target for the protesters," she said. "Who's to say that next week we don't have people from other extremist groups on the corner handing out propaganda?"