The UCSD student population was subjected to huge posters of dismembered fetuses this past week when the Bio-Ethical Reform’s anti-abortion display invaded Library Walk. The displeasing spectacle was enough to make UCSD students react and stage a counter-protest, organized by the panhellenic sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Associated Students Women’s Commission and the UCSD Women’s Center. It is irritating that a group using such dramatic and repulsive shock tactics could expect to achieve any sort of change or positive effect on society.
Now the problem is not merely the message itself, although it goes against the grain of most liberal college students’ opinions. The issue is how this message is conveyed. It should be possible to have a constructive discussion and debate on abortion rights. Students are fully capable of having a conversation about their personal preferences and beliefs on reproductive rights without pulling out pitchforks and mobbing Library Walk. This is a realistic, achievable goal for college campuses in the 21st century. But putting up 15-foot billboards bearing the blood and guts of fetuses is not thought-provoking. It is only fear-mongering. Allowing these groups of people to freely perform these demonstrations sends the message that shaming women for trying to make the best choice possible regarding their situations is acceptable.
People can invoke all the amendments they want and shout from every rooftop that they are expressing their freedom of speech. That does not make this behavior acceptable. The First Amendment protects almost every form of self-expression, which apparently also includes graphic posters with misleading comparisons between abortion and the genocide of the Holocaust. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of Americans support being able to publicly say things which are offensive to minority groups, which is higher than anywhere else in the world. The same study showed that 52 percent of Americans believe that sexually explicit statements should not be censored. Clearly, we have no qualms about offending people.
It is, in fact, legal for these groups to display graphic posters and offend minority groups. But it is damaging to the overall community and campus climate at UCSD. We as Americans have a right to express ourselves in almost every possible way, and this is a great responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
Bio-Ethical Reform has a right to force offensive visuals into the public’s mind, but the public also has a right to express its consequential anger. The fact that the Reform felt the need to place a metal fence and security cameras around the posters demonstrates an awareness of the hostility its tactless displays would generate.
Presenting a billboard with images of mutilated fetuses in a public space may fall under freedom of speech, but it is an abuse of this freedom and an exploitation of student space. Bio-Ethical Reform’s decision to use graphic imagery demonstrates a lack of respect and consideration for UCSD students. It created a visual barrier in the center of campus that forced students to endure nauseating, repugnant images of blood-smattered fetuses. Although warning signs were placed on each end of Library Walk, this did not ensure consent to view these images. The posters were large enough to be visible from distant locations across campus. In addition to that, many students habitually walk through this area to get to class or to buy lunch.
Furthermore, the fact that the group used tactics such as comparing abortion to genocide, the Holocaust and lynching crimes facilitates the distribution of misleading information to the public. These insensitive comparisons distort reality and spread false information. Women were especially attacked and demeaned by this graphic, gory display, which places responsibility on their shoulders for the deaths of unborn offspring. According to Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit organization specializing in women’s reproductive health, prior to the legalization of abortion in 1973, there were about 1.2 million U.S. women seeking illegal abortions each year and these unsafe procedures caused as many as 5,000 annual deaths. Facts like these are missing from our education and the posters presented by Bio-Ethical Reform. It failed to provide credible evidence to support its accusatory claims, relying on the shock value of gory imagery.
It’s absurd that the student body at UCSD is afforded no defense from the administration against images with triggering and gory content. In order to receive a so-called public education at this university, students have to pay an arm and a leg. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask that people — and especially organizations who are visitors on this campus — treat students with respect and consideration.