Advocates of Pro-life and Pro-choice occupied the University of Richmond Forum throughout the day Monday, but there was no dialogue between the two groups.
The nationally prevalent debate between Pro-life supporters and Pro-choice supporters is about whether the government should ban abortions or not. Pro-life supporters want abortions banned, while Pro-choice supporters want the decision to remain open to women.
The issue showed up at Richmond Monday when Spiders for Life, the Pro-life group on campus, decided to display graphic images of aborted fetuses in the middle of The Forum. Senior Maggie Egger, president of Spiders for Life, said the group had started planning this about six weeks ago.
Egger invited numerous Pro-life advocates from the community to help support her cause. One of those community members, Kristine Kruszelniski, said she had been to George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University previously to display the same images.
Students supporting the Pro-choice argument heard of Spider for Life’s plan early and planned their own counter-protest.
“We knew we couldn’t shut it down, but we knew we could counter-protest,” junior Pro-choice supporter Jennifer Johnson said.
Johnson and others angered by Spiders for Life’s display wrote Pro-choice messages in chalk on the Forum ground and stood in the walkways to The Forum holding up signs informing people walking by to “Look Down as You Walk.” Spiders for Life also put up signs in those walkways — “Warning, Disturbing Graphic Photos of Medical ‘Waste’ Ahead.”
“I actually think it’s great that they’re here,” Kruszelniski said about the students protesting the images. “I would love to see them actually address the arguments that we’re making rather than just put up slogans and expect that the conversation is done.”
Egger also said she wished the Pro-choice supporters would have come talked to her group.
“We’ve tried on other attempts, and it just never came through,” said senior Pro-choice supporter Ashley Andem when asked why the two groups weren’t communicating. “They said to our faces that they chose not to listen, so even if we try to reason with them in a calm and reasoned manner, they wouldn’t listen.”
Seniors Diane Stevenson and David Hernandez, who stood holding Pro-choice signs next to Andem, said they had not plan to protest when they had woken up on Monday.
“We were just going to breakfast, but then we saw [the aborted fetus images] and were like, ‘What the hell is that?’” Hernandez said. “We decided to jump in since we don’t have class until later.”
The argument itself was already prevalent on campus after sophomore Brendan Rhatican’s opinion column “A living embryo should no be aborted” was printed in The Collegian last Thursday.
The column, which sympathizes with the Pro-life argument, has 81 comments on The Collegian’s website as of Monday evening. Many of the comments address Rhatican’s views on women who are impregnated though rape.
“An avoidable evil (abortion) is never justified, even in response to the gravest of all evils,” he wrote. “…the fetus did not commit this crime, and if the fetus is living and human, then her murder compounds the injustice of rape.”
These opinions angered many readers, leading multiple women to leave comments about their own stories of becoming impregnated through rape and deciding to get abortions.
Community member Nicole W. Cooley, a member of the Center for Bioethical Reform, stood next to the images of aborted fetuses in support of Pro-life viewpoints. She also stood next to a poster that read, “I Regret My Abortion.”
“I was raped and had an abortion,” Cooley said. “I discovered after the fact that abortion kills a human being, and I’ve come to deeply regret that decision.
“If I could do one thing over, that would be it. The parents do not change the fact of what abortion is, and that’s that it kills a human being and just because the father’s a jerk doesn’t mean the baby should pay the price for his crime.”
Kruszelniski agreed with Cooley.
“I don’t believe that abortion actually un-rapes a women or actually helps her the way most people think it does,” Kruszelniski said.
Many of the Pro-choice supporters protesting said they didn’t have a problem with Pro-life supporters having their own beliefs, but that the aborted fetus images were too incendiary.
“They’re using emotional manipulation,” Andem said. “I feel like if you have to manipulate someone emotionally, your argument isn’t really that sound logically.”
Cooley said she just hoped to educate students about the pre-born looked like.
“In my experience, most students are unaware of what a first trimester abortion even looks like,” she sad.
Egger said she had been involved in the Pro-life movement since high school.
“I believe it’s just as much of an injustice as if we were killing toddlers or someone of any age,” Egger said. “I don’t see any difference between someone within the womb and on the outside.”
Not all students hanging around The Forum on Monday had such strong views on abortion though. Senior Johanna Gehlbach was just walking around handing out condoms.
“Take a condom,” she said. “You don’t have to get in the middle of the debate. Today, I’m just hoping people take some condoms and make sure that when they have sex, they have consensual, safe sex, and that’s the best way to have sex, right?”
Gehlbach said she thought the amount of anti-choice bills that had been introduced in the last year was a reason the abortion issue was showing up so much recently. She also said the fact that it was an election year polarized things.
Gehlbach distinguished her views from the two main groups, though she said she was definitely supporting Pro-choice more than Pro-life.
“I’m in the reproductive justice realm,” she said. “Reproductive justice is distinguished from the Pro-choice, Pro-life dichotomies simply because it’s not just about abortion.
“It’s about comprehensive sex education. It’s about access to medical care, whether that’s reproductive care of health care in general.”
Contact staff writer David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org