In 1986, a pro-abortion artist submitted a short animation for display on the Spectacolor billboard in New York’s Times Square. The scrolling, blinking-light board was cutting-edge technology in outdoor advertising, and the owner devoted 30 seconds of every half-hour to noncommercial art.
The message, composed by Nancy Spero, included the words “THIS WOMB DOES NOT BELONG TO DOCTORS, LEGISLATORS, JUDGES, PRIESTS, THE STATE, ETC.” The animation played only once, and it reportedly infuriated Spectacolor owner George Stonbely.
“It turned out my boss was an ardent Catholic, and he vetoed it,” artist Jane Dickson, who helped operate the board, told Artnet News in 2017.
Nearly 34 years later, an art exhibition called “Abortion Is Normal” is showing at a gallery in lower Manhattan for most of this month. It includes graphic, defiant images of women fighting for the right to end their babies’ lives, along with two portraits of pro-abortion Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a $50 cross-stitch pattern with the script “Abortion Is Normal” in a ring of flowers. Some of the show’s proceeds will go to the political action committee of Planned Parenthood, which last year put up a pro-abortion billboard in Times Square.
“That’s just so crazy to me,” said Brett Lempe, a pro-life, Catholic artist who lives in Denver. I talked with him this week about the art community’s embrace of pro-abortion messages and rejection of pro-life works.
“If they see that you’re pro-life, they probably won’t want to pay attention to you,” he said of the art-viewing public. “I think a lot of people probably just feel very threatened by that.”
Lempe converted to Catholicism just eight months ago, but he was an artist long before that. The religious art and aestheticism of the Catholic Church drew him in several years ago when he visited the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. He gradually began exploring Catholicism and developing pro-life beliefs. In 2019, he made two pro-life posts on social media, and the owner of a venue where Lempe was planning an art show saw them. Though Lempe had done some religious-themed artwork and one painting of a pregnant woman for use in a pro-life book, he didn’t plan to convey a specific message about abortion or life at the show.
But his friend who owned the venue saw Lempe’s pro-life posts and, in a text message, told him the show was off. The owners wanted no affiliation whatsoever with the pro-life point of view.
“I didn’t feel this huge loss from the art show getting canceled because I knew I was going to tell people about it, and I really knew that the pro-life movement was going to have my back,” Lempe said
And that’s exactly what happened. On Sept. 7, Lempe put on a pro-life art show with fellow Catholic artists at a Knights of Columbus hall in Denver. The one-night show, he said, “was actually really successful.”
The pro-life community has given strong support to artists and entertainers who share its views. Movies such as Unplanned and Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer exceeded box office expectations. But tolerance for art that hints at a pro-life message is almost nonexistent outside of religious communities around the globe.
In Athens, Greece, this week, the government ordered the removal of pro-life public service announcements from the city’s Metro one day after they were posted, the newspaper Neos Kosmos reported. Left-wing politician Alexis Charitsis praised the government’s decision, saying Greece must “not allow control over women’s choices via guilt-inducing misinformation.”
Lempe said he would like to serve as a role model to others facing discrimination for their pro-life beliefs: “I hope to inspire others to stand for life regardless of the consequences that come with that.”