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A fight over the right to display graphic images of aborted babies in sight of those who support the nation’s abortion industry has ended with a court decision that leaves different jurisdictions with different standards to use.
That’s the result of the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear a case out of Denver, where a pro-abortion church went to court and obtained a court order censoring the abortion images from around its building and services.
Law professor and blogger Eugene Volohk had participated in the case brought against several prolife protesters by officials from St. John’s Church in the Wilderness, and he said the conflict remains unresolved and unaddressed.
“The matter thus remains where it stood before the petition – some lower courts think that restricting gruesome images (and harsh words, such as signs calling abortion providers ‘murderers’) in places where young children can see them is constitutional, while others think it violates the First Amendment,” he wrote.
“A denial of certiorari is not a decision on the merits, so all the lower court decisions stand as precedents within their own jurisdictions, but as a conflicting body of law for other jurisdictions.”
The decision that stands for Colorado was made at the Colorado state court level, which ruled images of the results of the industry’s violent abortion procedures can be banned, even though that restriction is based on content.
The case was presented to the high court by officials with the Thomas More Society, and focused on graphic images that the abortion opponents have displayed to try to convince observers that abortion is not a good thing.
A Colorado appeals court said the images would have to be censored, and the state Supreme Court refused to take the case. But that, according to the filing, meant that a “content-based” restriction, acknowledged as such even by the court, is law in Colorado.
“And it does not enjoy the support of a single Supreme Court precedent involving political speech on any other subject,” the brief explained.
Pro-life advocates Ken Scott, Clifton Powell and others led a pro-life witness outside Denver’s St. John’s Church in the Wilderness several years ago. The church sued and obtained the court’s ban on “gruesome images.”
“Scott and Powell had given the cathedral prior notice of their planned protest. They did not enter the church, go onto church property, or disturb the services inside the church, from where their activity was not audible. No violence, trespass, physical obstruction, or criminal conduct occurred. Police were present, and neither Scott, Powell, or any other protester was cited for noise or other law violations,” according to the legal team.
The petition for review argued that the “gruesome images” ban silences speech that is critical to the pro-life message, as “pictures…convey messages in ways that words cannot equal.”
The legal team said, “Indeed, even pro-abortion Professor Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School recognized that too often ‘the life of the fetus becomes an…invisible abstraction.’ Indeed, ‘fetuses are invisible while…developing in the womb, and they are generally disposed of quickly after an abortion, so they remain unseen even then,’ even though the ‘brutality and inhumanity of abortion’ requires ‘show[ing] exactly what the abortion produces.'”
The brief argued that equally graphic images of Nazi concentration camp victims stirred a world to anger, those images of lynchings raised an outrage against the KKK, and images of war dead brought about America’s departure from Vietnam.
Volokh said he was disappointed in the decision, but the fight was worth entering.
He said he expects the issue will return to the Supreme Court at some point.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, said he expects exactly that to happen.
“If America insists on abortion rights, it must face up to these ugly results,” he said.