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Anti-abortion Demonstrations On Campus: How Far is Too Far?

WRITTEN BY Autumn Hall 

On September 27, 2021, many students were shocked to see extremely graphic anti-abortion displays posted along Pedestrian Walkway as they walked to class.

The large board presented multiple gruesome images of Holocaust victims, comparing abortions and the doctors who perform them to mass genocide and the Nazis. 

One of the signs read, “Aborting doctors, however, are cruel butchers who slaughter babies as knowingly as any death camp exterminator.”

“My family survived genocide. They survived the first Yugoslavian genocide. Seeing that compared to abortion is ridiculous … I can’t even wrap my head around it, but I am very glad to see how many pro-choice people are out here in support,” UT senior Katrina Bosse said.

Although the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform has been invited to present at the University of Tennessee by the student organization Vols For Life before, many students — both pro-choice and anti-abortion — were especially outraged that the university allowed this display on campus this year.

In May 2021, a bill was passed in Texas that prohibited women from having abortions as early as six weeks. The bill became reality in September when it was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. This law does not make exceptions, even for rape and incest. 

Since this change in legislature, women and feminist allies have gathered in increasingly large numbers all over the country to fight for the right to bodily autonomy. 

Students immediately began rallying in a counter-protest in front of the Ped Walkway display, chanting slogans such as “My body, my choice!” and “No uterus, no opinion!” while holding makeshift signs made of cardboard boxes and paper.  

“Our campus is composed of more than 50% women … To sit here in front of thousands of women and tell them that their bodily autonomy doesn’t matter is absolutely unfair … If the university supports this, they do not support women,” UT freshman Sierra Segura said.

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform claims to advertise their display as a means to raise awareness and change the way that college students across the United States think about pregnancy and abortion. 

Their website argues, “The photographs help [students] to realize that embryos and fetuses are not blobs of tissue and that abortion is not a morally inconsequential act.”

Many students welcomed the demonstration as a positive spark of intellectual conversation on campus, but also believed that there were better, less antagonistic ways that the group could have advocated for the cause. 

“I get that we’re a public university, but it is sick what they are comparing this to. It is sick that they are allowed to do this. Donde Plowman needs to do something about this now,” UT freshman Hunter Early said.

The protestors were confronted by several anti-abortion students who ran through the crowd several times carrying campaign flags for former President Donald Trump. This quickly began to incite conflict between students, who began to debate and argue with one another. 

Although this student-led counter protest took place over the span of only two days, its effects on students are lingering in conversation and movement towards more pro-women education.