If you’ve ever watched Jimmy Kimmel Live [JKL], it probably didn’t occur to you that the Brooklyn-born comedian/talk show host would one day become a target of anti-choicers. But he has.
Kimmel first aroused anti-choice ire back in January when he created a parody of a Focus on the Family ad that aired during the Super Bowl. As you’ll recall, the FotF spot featured football great Tim Tebow and his mother discussing how happy they were that mother Pam “chose life” rather than aborting the pregnancy that turned out to be the Heisman trophy-winning athlete. In Kimmel’s hilarious Americans for Choice send-up, an unemployed 35-year-old slacker lives in his parent’s basement. The tag line: They don’t all turn out like Tim Tebow.
Immediately after the spoof was posted, the antis issued a flurry of anti-Kimmel rants. Then, like all things Super Bowl, the world moved on and even the most determined anti-choicers seemed to forget about the performer. That is, until late June when more than 100 protesters—members and supporters of a 12-year-old group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust—turned up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, which just happens to be across the street from the JKL studios.
The protest outside Grauman’s was the culmination of the Survivor’s annual 12-day “boot camp for pro-life training” [cost: $475 per person] led by anti-choice heavy weights Troy Newman of Operation Rescue, Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Brandi Swindell of Generation Life, and Joe Slovenic, a long-time activist whose involvement in the movement goes back to 1993’s Impact Team, described by Time Magazine as “the nation’s first formally-trained class of abortion protesters.”
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According to the Survivor’s website, the group—intended to mobilize Christian teens and young adults “to rescue the next generation”—believes in “education and action” and opposes not only abortion but also the pill, IUD, Norplant, and “other abortifacients.”
The protest outside Grauman’s took an ugly turn when a freelance camera crew hired by JKL showed up on a highly-trafficked corner adjacent to the anti-choice picket line to film a sketch for the show. A video posted on YouTube reveals that as the crew set up shop—including several large Klieg lamps—the Survivors sprang into action, objecting to sharing the street with the filmmakers; within minutes both sides became loud and belligerent. At one point Survivor’s co-founder Jeff White—clad in a tee-short reading Intolerance is a Beautiful Thing—began screaming that the crew were “jerk-wads,” “union thugs” and “leftist Teamsters.” As words flew, the film crew turned on the lights—the same lights actors and performers work under each day without damage to either their skin or psyche.
Not so the Survivors. To hear them tell it, the crew intentionally set out to burn them. While they admit that no one was actually hurt, one protester, 18-year-old Ryan Bueler, charges that his rubber wristband melted from the heat.
The bracelet quickly became Exhibit A in Mahoney, Newman, and White’s media arsenal and they wasted no time in sending word to anti-choice activists and conservative media outlets, claiming that “peaceful pro-life demonstrators” were being hurt by “sadistic” Hollywood liberals.
Overnight, protests were organized; several days later Survivors and others were bellowing outside Kimmel’s home and studio, demanding an on-air apology from the talk show host. In addition, several survivors scored free tickets to a Jimmy Kimmel Live taping and stood up in the middle of the filming to state their case. The four—teens Walter Gazave and Marissa Streett and adults Brandi Swindell and Beth Hockel—were escorted out, handcuffed, and detained but, in the end, JKL staff declined to press charges against them.
Not surprisingly, the story doesn’t end here. Shortly after the disruption, Mahoney and Slovenic met with JKL personnel and got them to promise that they will never use the offending film crew again. Still unsatisfied, Timmerie Millington, spokesperson for the Survivors, says that the group plans to file a lawsuit against the lighting crew and is being represented by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, a California nonprofit “composed of attorneys and other concerned citizens committed to giving helpless and innocent human beings of any age, and their advocates, a trained voice in the courtrooms of our nation.”
While Millington declined further comment on the specifics of the not-yet-filed lawsuit, she did note that this is not the first time Life Legal Defense has aided the Survivors. LLD sued the city of Birmingham, Alabama in February, 2009 following the arrest of nine Survivors who had organized a “truth picket” outside Parker High School. The nine did not have a permit and told the Court that they didn’t need one. As they saw it, they were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Standing on the sidewalk with graphic pictures of bloody fetuses, handing out patently-false pamphlets about the alleged dangers of abortion, and accosting students as they attempted to enter their school building was within the purview of free speech, they argued.
In early July 2010, Judge L. Scott Coogler agreed. The city subsequently issued a statement saying that the Birmingham police will “not arrest, threaten to arrest, or interfere with the group’s free speech activities as long as these activities are lawful and don’t block pedestrians” when the Survivors return.
And Jimmy Kimmel Live? The show, as they say, goes on.