Anti-abortion group makes impact on campus
The anti-abortion demonstration, known as the “Genocide Awareness Project,” took to the EMU lawn this week to spread its message. It drew similar reactions to last week’s demonstration at Lane Community College, which caught students and community members alike off guard with its graphic displays and Holocaust comparisons.
Even with the protests, GAP demonstrators thought their message was somewhat well received on campus, said Jacqueline Hawkins, the GAP’s minority outreach director.
“Students have told me, ‘Thank you for being here. You’ve made me think about this. I need to do more research.’ And also, ‘F-you.’ Really the gamut of responses,” she said.
UOPD kept a close eye on pro-choice protesters, who attempted to cover the GAP’s graphic images with flags, tarps and bed sheets. Police presence at demonstrations isn’t uncommon, according to UOPD Public Information Officer Kelly McIver.
“UOPD officers have been present at all of the large demonstrations on or around campus in the last year,” McIver said. “The purpose is to make sure that all exercise of free speech on campus can happen safely, and that all laws and university policies are observed.”
The protests on Wednesday were peaceful, apart from one anti-abortion protester rattling the barricades surrounding the GAP’s display. But other protestors were quick to tell agitator to stop shaking the barricades. Even with the attempts to cover up the graphic images, anti-abortion protesters were compliant with the laws and conduct code, said UO spokesman Tobin Klinger.
“Holding up sheets is not infringing on the rights of others free speech since the images can still be seen,” Klinger said.
Free speech has been at the forefront of the conversation regarding the GAP’s presence on campus. Bystander Christian Hartwell, a senior journalism major, said that allowing groups with different beliefs on campus is appropriate and necessary in a dialogue.
“This is a public place, and different parties have the right to express themselves freely,” Hartwell said. “There’s a lot of value in having people express opinions freely.”
The university is a public space and all groups who meet the criteria to hold an event are entitled to hold an event, said Interim Vice President of Student Life Kevin Marbury.
“The area around the EMU is a public forum, which is available for university groups, student groups and outside groups to hold events,” Marbury said. “They [GAP] followed the process, certified they had appropriate insurance and had their structure inspected by the fire marshal.”
Some student groups across the campus condemned the demonstration. Groups with traditionally anti-abortion stances, such as College Republicans, criticized the tactics of GAP’s demonstration.
“We do not affiliate with GAP because we feel their approach is too aggressive and ineffective in reaching out to college students,” said College Republican’s Vice Chair Aaron Covarrubias. “As a pro-life student, I feel we can win arguments with logic and reason, not with fear or scare tactics.”
College Democrats President Hannah Argento criticized the demonstrators’ perversion of the term genocide.
“To compare the mass murder of a nation of people or ethnic group to abortion not only diminishes real genocide, it is a gross manipulation of the term,” Argento said.
While the protests were happening outside, groups inside the EMU were offering support services to students. Fatima Pervaiz, director of the UO Women’s Center, said that students were guiding other students her group’s office for counseling.
“There have been people in crisis and in distress who needed the crisis intervention and sexual violence support services staff that are stationed here,” Pervaiz said.
Pervaiz said that despite the emotionally charged day, more students are becoming aware of the importance of the Women’s Center work.
“I want students to know that the Women’s Center understands how traumatic these images can be,” said Pervaiz. “We want to prevent as much distress and possible, and we’re so sorry that they have to witness such images of violence, it’s not healthy for anyone.”
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