It is clear that a stall run by an anti-abortion organisation and featuring rubber foetus dolls at a show that sells itself as a family event would have the potential to cause problems.
So the fact that some people who attended the show have objected to the presence of the stall set up by the Voice For Life anti-abortion organisation at the Canterbury A&P Show last week should be no surprise. Such stalls have apparently been set up at the show for several years without eliciting comment, but this year some parents have complained about it. While the organisers of the stall say that their stall was designed merely to teach about human reproduction and did nothing to promote the group's political line, the appropriateness of it at such an event was certainly questionable.
One parent objected because one of the rubber foetus dolls was given to her 11-year-old son while he was attending the show with his class. So far as the complaint was about the doll itself, there is not much to it. The foetus dolls themselves are unobjectionable. Children much younger than 11 are well aware nowadays of the development of a baby before birth and the doll is no more than a depiction of that development. Indeed, it is not unknown for spectators to get a much more vivid awareness of the development of animal life through witnessing the birth of a calf or lamb at some time during the show. The parent is justified in her concerns that her son had been given the doll without her permission. He was also given a leaflet detailing the stage-by-stage development of a foetus in the womb and a pamphlet for pregnancy crisis line. Most parents would agree that it is undesirable that such material should be provided to children without the involvement of a parent or caregiver.
The stallholders' account of the incident suggests the children became interested in what was on the stall out of simple curiosity. That may very well be true but in any case it illustrates the risks of having it on display at an event where that is likely to happen. Most parents rightly prefer to have some say in how their children learn about this subject.
Voice For Life deny their stall overtly promoted its line on abortion. That too may be true but it is a little disingenuous. While there is no suggestion that anyone at the stall was talking about abortion with any children, the whole point of it was to interest spectators in what the group has to offer.
The A&P Show has always been an event that combines many elements - including the serious business of agricultural and pastoral competition along with a large dose of pure entertainment. Most who attend, aside from the competitors and participants, go in family groups and they go for the entertainment element.
Voice For Life have an interest in making themselves visible to as large an audience as possible. The A&P Show certainly provides a large potential audience for them. However, whether the occasion is one that is entirely fitting for their sometimes contentious material is debatable. It is a question that both Voice For Life and the show's organisers should consider in future.
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