Everybody in Protest
A gallery of horrific images raises sheets and questions about first amendment rights.BY ANDREW ADAMS
The pictures were horrific and disgusting. Fetuses, with developed heads, limbs and torsos lay ripped apart, mutilated and even decapitated. One especially gruesome photograph showed a fetus arm lying in blood and tissue placed next to a dime to show its size. Yet in another, equally if not more disturbing photo, a fetus head with developed eyes, nose and mouth is held by tweezers over a jar of formaldehyde.
Perhaps the foulest aspect of these photographs is that they were displayed as posters in the EMU amphitheater on Oct. 11 and 12 to nauseate and enrage the hundreds of students who walk by the area every day. A number of students who walked by the display did not keep their anger and disgust to themselves, and came out in force to protest the display. This counter display included shielding parts of the display with sheets to protect the sensitive nature of many of those on campus.
The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), a national pro-life organization created by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, brought the display onto campus. The group travels to campuses all over the nation with their posters depicting dead babies to educate students on the value of life. It chose to come to the University of Oregon after being invited by the student group Justice For All, which is affiliated with the national group of the same name. Dominic DeMaio, a junior majoring in international studies, just registered the group this fall term.
DeMaio does not hesitate to describe the display's images as "extremely disturbing and quite horrific," but he is quick to add this is their very purpose. "There's a lack of awareness of the effects of abortions on the unborn and many people need to see something to believe it. The images are effective because we are a visual society," he said.
The leader of one of the few pro-life groups on campus, DeMaio is not apologetic about his politics or the methods of the Genocide Awareness Project. By placing these images under the scrutiny of public opinion, DeMaio believes people will look at abortion in a different light.
"I would hope that someone would be shocked. The purpose is to go to the next level and ask questions about abortion," he said.
DeMaio and those in the awareness project he talked to after the display left campus received plenty of discussion both positive and negative. This discussion was largely beneficial DeMaio said, but he did mention a few of those in the awareness project did not appreciate having sheets raised in front of their display. He refused to make any specific comments about the sheets except he agreed in principle with the complaints of those with the awareness project.
However, the counter-protest may have rankled the awareness project members a little more than DeMaio would say. The group didn't stay on campus to show off their display for the third day they were allowed. A member who scheduled to have an open dialogue session with concerned students backed out of the session after those who came refused to watch a movie he had brought. This action prompted student Scott Austin to file a grievance with the Student Senate. This grievance was read at the Oct. 20 senate meeting. Noah Zanville, a senior, has also filed a grievance with the ASUO over the display. He was angered about the display being placed in the amphitheater, and its graphic images that he said made him ill.
Information handed out when the display was on campus and from the group's web site stated the awareness project's purpose is to stop women from having abortions. The GAP aims to do this by publicly showing the effects of abortions and by comparing abortion to the Jewish Holocaust and the lynching of African-Americans.
These methods often inspire those who witness the group's display to react emotionally or even violently in a counter- protest.
University of Oregon students infuriated that the display was allowed to come onto campus and physically sickened by its images thankfully remained peaceful both days the display was on campus. Members of the Women's Center, Jewish Student Union, the Jewish group Hillel and other interested students held signs exhorting a woman's right to choose and engaged members of the pro-life group in discussion. Both Jewish groups were responsible for raising sheets over parts of the display in an attempt to make it less visible to people just passing by.
Jeff Klein, director of Hillel, said the counter protest acted as a "pressure valve" which let concerned students see an active response being made to the display. Klein also thought the visible and peaceful counter protest discouraged a violent reaction by students. "I was just happy to protect people emotionally," he said about helping to hold the sheets in front of the display.
Klein responded to the GAP's arguments by saying, "It's a stretch, not a good argument as anyone with half a brain wouldn't make the connection it is genocide, and I think the GAP know that or they would be more effective in trying to educate people."
Student Anthony Jackson said he was so sickened by what he saw in the amphitheater he was unable to go to class. Jackson made his comments at a "de-briefing," meeting held in the Fir room of the EMU on Monday Oct. 18 attended by protesters, administrators and ASUO staff members.
A member of a campus fraternity, Jackson said he understood the "shock" method of the display but couldn't understand why he wasn't warned about it being in the center of campus. Other issues Jackson noted were inadequate warning signs that read, "Warning. Genocide images ahead," placed in areas where the display could be seen, and a lack of counselors available to help those who were upset by the display.
"There may have been a young lady who walked by the display and had gone through [an abortion] and there was nobody there to help them," Jackson said.
Jackson decided to take action himself, and stood with a self-made sign near the entrance of the EMU breezeway to warn students of the display.
Key to organizing the counter-protest was Jennie Breslow, public relations coordinator for the Women's Center. Breslow, like Jackson, also was upset at the administration for not giving groups and students enough warning and not giving them a choice in weather or not to view the display.
During the meeting Breslow demanded, "I want to hear the administration say, what we should have done and what we will do next."
Other students voiced their discontent with the school administration. They demanded to know why administrators allowed the display on campus, if administration members knew exactly what it was and what response it would generate, and why it was, as one student put it, "shoved down our throats." Some even said they had lost their trust with the administration because it acted without student involvement in the approval process over the display, and because it did not warn students about the display.
General Counsel for the University Melinda Grier responded to the student's anger at the meeting by calling into the issue the Constitution of the United States. Grier said that the University had a few areas on campus in which groups could express their views. In these area's opinions can be expressed which are neither supported nor disapproved of by the University. The school only provides a venue for the opinion to be expressed. The right to express any opinion in that venue is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
"The school cannot make a decision on where to put a display based on content as that would be censorship. The fact that you would have had to see it when you walk by would not have kept it out either," Grier said.
What the university was saying to these students, which incidentally only made them more incensed, is that they would just have to deal with it. The display, while disgusting as it was, is protected under the Constitution.
Leader of a campus Christian Evangelical group, Mike Edsall was one of the few pro-life people who attended the meeting. Edsall said he supported the intent of the display but would not go as far as to say he was in support of the images it used. He also noted that students in his group often see "posters depicting things very offensive to our morality and our response is to walk away." He couldn't understand why students were so insistent on being protected from being the display and other messages like it. "You have the right not to be assaulted but you don't have the right to never be offended," he said.
It is interesting to note how radically the political atmosphere has changed at the nation's major campuses. It was just thirty years ago that Mario Savo climbed onto the roof of a Berkeley police car to protest for, among other issues, the right for students to express their political views, no matter how radical.
However, on campuses today the emphasis is not to continue that free expression of opinion, but rather limit the free expression of groups or individuals that do not share the liberal beliefs so prevalent. Bible Jim and now the Genocide Awareness Project have received the brunt of this backlash against the far right opinion, which has become the minority.
Bible Jim's message and the images of the Genocide Awareness Project are disgusting. One can not respect a bigot or the exploitation of a people's suffering to promote a political agenda. The confrontational methods of the awareness project are cheap, yet the group's right to take its place in a public forum to present its member's collective opinion is sacred as stated in the Constitution.
The administration went into this protest with its hands tied. It knew how revolting the awareness project's display was, but it couldn't do a damn thing about it. No doubt some administrators disagreed with the group's ideology, but not one of them can refuse to uphold our freedom of speech. As much as other student groups took offense at the display, no organization, individual or administration can keep any legitimate group from expressing their opinion no matter how disgusting, outrageous, or controversial. God bless the U.S.A.
Andrew Adams, a sophomore majoring in Journalism, is News Editor of the Oregon Commentator