I didn't know what to make of Mark Harrington.
He didn't know what to make of me.
“Until we found out you were a reporter,” he said after granting me access to the cab of his truck, “well, let's just say we were prepared. We were investigating.”
For “purposes of security,” Mr. Harrington wasn't much inclined to tell me how exactly he was investigating, but I assume this had something to do with the security detail trailing his truck in a Ford Crown Victoria all tricked out to resemble a police cruiser.
At lunchtime yesterday, Mr. Harrington and his Anti-Abortion Gross Out Show slowly circled the Lucas County courthouse, over and over and over again.
This gave office workers multiple opportunities to gaze upon the photos of bloodied bits of post-abortion fetal tissue that festooned three sides of his truck.
I saw Mr. Harrington's truck and, trying to catch enough time at a red light to approach him, found myself following the truck and the Crown Vic for a fair number of left turns.
As I learned later, the drivers of the truck and the car exchanged a goodly amount of radio contact, trying to assess whether the woman in the car behind them posed any threat.
Now, when I pair the word “abortion” with the word “threat,” the result is a sobering list of vandalized clinics and wounded or murdered abortionists. I don't regard abortion foes as victims of such violence.
Still, the 42-year-old Mr. Harrington and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform - the California-based group sponsoring these controversial nationwide rolling billboards - are quite security-conscious.
Sometimes the Crown Vic driver is an armed, off-duty police officer. The group's vehicles have video cameras to document any harassment. And a checklist on the truck's console reminds the driver to lock the doors, close the windows, and put on body armor.
Mr. Harrington wears a flak jacket that seems more heavy-duty than anything I see on police officers. It's a “high-impact vest,” he says: “We won't get hurt, put it that way.” Driving, Mr. Harrington constantly checks his rear-view mirrors, because “awareness is the key.”
Indeed, you could say “awareness” is the Center's very credo. Ours is a visual culture, says Mr. Harrington, and yes, the photos on the truck are disgusting, but that's only because “abortion is disgusting.”
Personally, I can't think of a more base way for abortion opponents to make their point - but then again, First Amendment protection does apply to everyone.
And, you know, repulsive as I find most of their tactics, I have always grudgingly tipped my hat to the anti-abortion crowd.
(Well, the unarmed ones).
It seems perfectly logical to me that those who really believe abortion is murder should be morally compelled to speak against it, just as surely as anyone should take the gun from the hand of one human being who is about to fire at another.
But can we please conduct this debate with some sense of civility and reason?
We haven't so far in this country - and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform sure isn't helping change that.