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Anti-abortion industry: The merchandising of the March for Life

January 24, 2011 - 11:30 AM
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George V. Johnson knows the power of a pro-life product. Twenty-five years ago, Johnson was on a Christian cruise with his then-wife when a tiny metal glint caught his eye. Sitting across from Johnson was a guy with the feet of a 10-week-old fetus pinned to his lapel.

Within a month, Johnson had secured a "precious feet" pin for himself and had begun carving out his own corner of the pro-life market: fetus checks. Now, Johnson works professionally as "The Pro-Life Check Guy.” He throws in a free fetus-footed lapel pin with every box sold. Yesterday afternoon, Johnson hawked his checks at the March for Life's annual exhibition hall, where dozens of anti-abortion groups have gathered to show off the latest in pro-life merchandise. Johnson, 74, donned a pro-life necktie for the occasion. “I wear these purposefully," Johnson says of his accessories. "To make people ask questions."

Yesterday, one contingent of March-for-Lifers trekked out to Germantown, Md. to stage a "prayer walk" around the country's newest late-term abortion clinic. Another group gathered in front of the White House to urge President Obama to consider legislative remedies against abortion. The remainder shopped. Available for purchase at this weekend's exhibition hall, located in the basement of the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill: Pro-Life temporary tattoos; beaded coin purses hand-sewn by the sisters of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; A.N. Field's The Evolution Hoax Exposed; anti-abortion dorm posters drawn up in classic tattoo styles and Obama-inspired fonts; rosaries lined with tiny fetus dolls; bumper stickers reading "killing babies is a bad choice"; hand-crafted poplar crucifixes; palm-sized fetus models in both peach and brown.

Below: The best the exhibition hall had to offer.


For the poor. The majority of the exhibit demonstrators weren't looking for cash. Most settled for the free attention. A note at one booth read: “We’ll be back Monday a.m. If you won’t be here Monday, Pls. take what you want to buy—call or mail in pmt.”

I left the exhibit hall with a bag full of freebies, including a full-color calendar of the saints, a hand full of custom-printed "PRO-LIFE" M&Ms, and an anti-Nike protest sign with a wooden stick that lent the weight of urgency to my left hand ("just promise to hold the sign up high!" the distributor told me). And the most bizarre imagery available in the hall was free of charge: The face of Terri Schiavo, radiating the face of Jesus. Now in palm card version.

For the secular set. Making its debut at the March for Life exhibit hall this year was "Life After Abortion," a documentary film constructed from interviews with women and men negatively affected by the procedure (many of the interviews were conducted at previous March for Life weekends). The two-disc treatment contains two versions of the film: A 140-minute full exploration of the topic, and a 60-minute cut "for secular and teenage audiences."

“For high school and college kids, 60 minutes is about as long as they want to sit and watch this,” producer Brian Barkley told me. And for secular audiences, Barkley chose to eliminate the latter half of the film: "the recovery part." That section, Barkley says, deals with "God's grace, God's forgiveness, memorializing and naming the babies." I ask Barkley why non-religious audiences might be turned off by the baby-naming portion. "Truthfully," Barkley says, "we've yet to find a secular audience to show this to."


For the kids. The Preborn Christ: The Story of Christ in the Womb is an illustrated journey through Mary's miraculous reproductive system. The children's book, co-author Susan Andrews Brindle told me, helps both English and Spanish-speaking children understand that even fetuses are made in Christ's image. “These are actual medical photographs of human development,” says Brindle, who worked alongside Dr. Diane N. Irving to ensure the accuracy of the illustrations, save for a little artistic license: “We just took the medical photographs, and we put a halo around it."

For big spenders. When 3D fetal imagery won't cut it, consider shelling out for the 4D. Welcome to "The Truth Booth,” a “window to the womb" that "three-dimensional still ultrasound images and adds the element of time.” (In the Truth Booth, ultrasound images are spliced together to create the appearance of movement). For $800, investors can purchase their own Truth Booth, an “unmanned kiosk or cart set up at a local mall, school, or other secular arena showing 3D and 4D ultrasound images of the child in the womb" (plus shipping; 32" LCD TV not included). According to Truth Booth literature, the device provides a "factual, scientific, creative, gentle and informative" experience that is neither ‘pro-life’ nor ‘anti-abortion.’ It is simply pictures of the developing child, not a provocation for controversy."


For regretters: At the booth of anti-abortion organization A Cry Without A Voice, marchers weren't asked to buy anything, but they were expected to add some value. Participants were invited to peruse a selection of baby shoes provided by the organization, pick a pair "near to their heart," then write a note to the aborted fetus closest to them. On the table was a pair of tiny plaid slippers bearing the message: “I’m a young adult who has taken the morning after pill twice. Not only will I never do that EVER again, but I am not having sex again till marriage. I will adopt 2 kids. <3 Sorry.”

Muriel Ramos, too, chose to commemorate her abortion, which she regrets, by attaching a message to a pair of shoes. “People are very drawn to this, and maybe not even for their own baby. This is for anyone in a family who has been affected by abortion," Ramos says. "A lot of times, grandparents will discover that there was a baby in the family that was aborted, and it has been pushed under the rug. It hasn’t been allowed to be spoken about and memorialized.”

Completed shoes travel from city to city, spreading the anti-abortion message. “They’ve been all over the world," Ramos says. "They’ve been to Auschwitz. They’ve been to Tea Party rallies.”



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  1. davezimm davezimm

    David Zimmerman

    Jan 24, 2011 - 01:54:07 PM

    Whether I agree with your cause or not, I am completely turned off by the fact that this rally appears to be intent on turning the National Mall into a trash heap. There appear to be more signs on the ground being trampled than there are in the hand of the attendees, and I'm completely sure that those attending have no intentios of picking up after themselves. Why should we allow all of this trash to be strewn all over the Mall????

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  2. NewsNinja NewsNinja

    Kahn Rice

    Jan 24, 2011 - 11:40:35 PM

    Kind of a cynical story, isn't it? Was there stuff for sale at the "sanity" event? You bet there was. How much Obama paraphernalia is there? As to the other comment. Baloney.

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