A six-foot-eight screen stood outside the Student Union Thursday showing loops of graphic images and videos of abortions and aborted fetuses.
UB Students for Life organized a protest outside of the Student Union from 9 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. put on by Created Equal, an anti-abortion choice group, along with help from the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform.
By the event’s peak – around 1 p.m. – about 60 students and professors were gathered, approaching the display to debate, question and form a counter protest. Throughout the day, there were more pro-abortion rights protestors than those who are against abortion.
Created Equal’s videos featured messages such as “Help us end age discrimination,” to juxtapose abortion footage.
“We’re trying to show the humanity of these unborn babies and the inhumanity of abortion,” said Cristina Lauria, president of UB Students for Life and a senior health and human services major. “Abortion is violent, it isn’t just some concept. It is a violent, invasive behavior that kills a human being.”
While some counter-protestors discussed issues with the anti-abortion group, others were more argumentative. One group of students made posters with puppies and kittens on them to distract from the display’s graphic photos with phrases like “avert your eyes to me.”
Lauria said that Created Equal did the protest for free and none of the club’s Student Association budget went into funding the display, which had to say contained to a fenced-in area outside the Union.
The event generated instant feedback. Some students debated amongst themselves or with the protestors, some cried and hugged one another and others tried to help those were offended by the display.
Eric Chambers, a senior environmental design major, said he felt the display, especially the Jumbotron, was “overkill.”
To “look out” for students who might have been offended by the display, Chambers printed out posters of his dogs the night before and wore them in front of the Jumbotron.
“Students that aren’t pro-life really don’t want to see this,” Chambers said. “[The anti-abortion protestors’] freedom of speech shouldn’t be limited, but putting it in a place that’s the capital of campus where people eat and meet up is just wrong. People shouldn’t have a dead baby shoved in their face.”
To alert more students of the graphic images, he posted about it on Yik-Yak, a social media app that allows people to share posts anonymously with those around them, the night before.
Lauria understood some may be uncomfortable with the images, but she said “we don’t think that on a college campus anyone is too young or too immature to handle something like this.”
For those on campus who have had traumatic experiences with abortions, the anti-abortion protestors provided phone numbers students could call.
Megan Erway, a sophomore psychology major, disagreed with UB Students for Life’s tactics.
“There should be a warning,” Erway said. “That’s unacceptable for me. You have no idea how those things could emotionally harm other people and it seems like they overlook that factor and don’t really seem to care.”
Around noon, the scene in front of the Student Union began to get heated.
Seth Drayer, director of training at Created Equal, spoke to the crowd using a PA system. He said his goal was to “have a conversation” and to “bring people in, pro-choice or pro-life, who are maybe too nervous to talk about it.”
Many people in the crowd grew angry with Drayer’s statements and voiced their disapproval.
Shouts of “what about rape vitcims?” and “how can you do this?” came from the crowd as Drayer continued to speak. For students who asked to speak, Drayer had them speak into his microphone.
Many questioned the legitimacy of Drayer’s arguments, while others were more aggressive, with one student even saying, “you should’ve been aborted because you’re a f****** idiot.”
“It’s supposed to be more conversational, not so loud,” Drayer said. “People speak out in very vocal ways, so I’m not very surprised by [the shouting].”
A student stomped on one of the anti-abortion protestor’s signs and spat on it as he walked away. Police apprehended the man but he was not arrested. Mark Harrington, executive director of Created Equal, discussed the incident with the student. The student apologized to Harrington and the two shook hands.
“If there’s remorse and they apologize, we don’t press charges,” Harrington said.
In previous years when the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) brought similar displays to campus, there was controversy over the group calling abortion “genocide.” Last year, GAP brought its displays to campus on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
While this year the display still fell on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Created Equal did not refer to abortion as genocide. Lauria and Drayer also said the coinciding date was a coincidence and they were unaware Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Many students showed up to voice their opinions on the issue and a few clubs used the large crowd to their advantage. UB Pastafarians even handed out free candy, holding a sign that said “Candy or not, we give you the choice.”
“We got word that UB Students for Life would be having their annual display, and since it has been controversial, and drew a lot of people in the past we figured we could piggyback on it to tell hundreds of students about our club,” said Jonathan Sessler, president of UB Pastafarians and a senior biological sciences major.
Other clubs like Outdoor Adventure Club, UB Improv and Pagan SA drew attention away from the photos and videos by advertising their upcoming events.
Some students held up comedic signs, such as “honk if you’re horny” and “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi.” At one point, a group of students were chanting “we want Pepsi” over Drayer’s speech.
Lauria said she respected the rights of other groups to express themselves publicly.
Created Equal focuses on colleges because they’re a “marketplace of ideas,” said Josh Bertsch, director of special projects.
The group had previously gone to several colleges in Florida in March and Ohio State and University of Albany this month. While they don’t always use the Jumbotron, they said it can be much more effective than pictures alone.
“Pictures are worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million,” said Jami Beer, director of campus outreach for Created Equal.
This was the first year videos of abortions were shown as part of the Student for Life’s display. This is the third year the group has brought similar displays to campus.
“It was a bit difficult to take [the anti-abortion protestors] seriously because of the nature of the images they used but I guess they did achieve something because they got people talking,” Erway said.
Daniel McKeon is a features editor and can be reached at email@example.com