ALBANY, Calif. -- Police have arrested two anti-abortion protesters on pornography charges for displaying gruesome photographs of aborted fetuses at a community festival.
A San Francisco Bay Area civil liberties lawyer called the arrest a "disturbing" attempt at censorship.
"This is speech on a very important political topic, and for the government to suppress it under the guise of controlling pornography is truly disturbing," Margaret Crosby of the American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday.
Ms. Crosby and the ACLU usually find themselves in court defending abortion rights, but this time they see an unconstitutional attack on the rights of anti-abortionists trying to make a political statement.
On Sunday, Albany police arrested Robert Powers, 49, of El Cerri
to, and Steven Butler, 29, of Livermore on suspicion of displaying harmful material to minors and using pornographic material in advertising after they refused to take down their signs at the annual Solano Stroll.
Police Chief Larry Murdo said yesterday that "not just anybody can arrive and place up a booth and show anything they want" at the city business district's annual festival.
He said the graphic pictures of aborted fetuses were "certainly harmful material for the children to see."
Taking a cue from U.S. Supreme Court rulings on pornography, California state statutes describe "obscene" and "harmful" material as appealing "to the prurient interest, and [which] depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct and which . . . lacks serious literary, artistic political, or scientific value."
Chief Murdo said that it would be up to the courts to decide whether the fetus pictures violate the law but that his officers had the necessary "probable cause" to believe they did.