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EDITOR'S NOTE: While Show the Truth protestors noted in this article were on property owned by Summerside Presbyterian Church, the church is not affiliated with the group or its protests.
“We’re here to show the truth,” insisted the man with the mutilated fetus placard.
“Show it somewhere else!” snarled back the teenager confronting him.
There were many interactions like that over the course of the noon hour Tuesday at Summerside’s Three Oaks Senior High School.
A group of anti-abortion picketers, most carrying signs with graphic photos, set up on the back lawn of the Summerside Presbyterian Church, along Kenmoore Avenue. They were just across the street from the school’s parking lot.
Many students were visibly upset and angered by the picketers’ presence near their school.
There were no altercations, but many students took the opportunity to tell the visitors they were not welcome. Some heated arguments took place.
“Not your uterus, not your opinion!” yelled one young woman as she walked by.
“This is ridiculous! Why don’t you all leave!” called out another.
The group with the placards was mostly comprised of members of Show the Truth, an organization that espouses using graphic imagery to "educate" the public about abortion. All but one of the protestors at TOSH were from Ontario and travelled to P.E.I. specifically to picket outside all of this province's high schools over the course of the week.
The one local in the group was long-time Island anti-abortionist Ann Marie Tomlins of Montague, who invited Show the Truth here on her own initiative. There are other anti-abortion groups active on P.E.I. and some routinely picket outside facilities like the Prince County Hospital, but they don’t typically use the same graphic images Show the Truth does in its events. Tomlins said she is not associated with those other groups anymore.
Setting up outside Island high schools is a new tactic and it’s been going well, she told the Journal Pioneer.
“It’s started out terrible,” she said.
“It started out just (students) cursing and swearing and calling us names and screaming and yelling from across the street. But a lot of people came over and talked, some were still aggressive, but some were asking questions and wanting to know facts.”
As for why the group wanted to target high schools, Tomlins said it is because students are at an impressionable age.
“By the time they get to high school many are sexually active, they’re certainly old enough to know about the facts of life. They're able to get pregnant and at this point, they need to know what abortion really is," she said.
Katie Burt, 17, was having none of that line of thinking.
She’d intended to spend part of her lunch hour printing out some of her school work, she said, instead she felt she had to be outside giving the visitors a piece of her mind.
“I get it. They’re against abortion and they have the right to speak their mind – but they should not be at a school with little kids showing this stuff. That’s a dead baby right there,” said Burt, pointing to one of the signs.
Three Oaks Senior High staff monitored the situation throughout the lunch hour but there was little they could do because the picketers were not on school property. Summerside Police Services officers were also on scene to make sure nothing got out of hand.
When the lunch hour bell finally rang students were quickly ushered back inside the building.
As Tomlins and Show the Truth packed up their signs, a male student approached them. He was carrying his own hastily scrawled sign that read “I’m pro-choice. Change my mind.”
He got into a protracted, but civil, argument with the picketers.
They were still debating when the Journal Pioneer left the scene.
Calls to the province’s Public Schools Branch by the Journal Pioneer were not returned.