ERIN LEACH-KEMON AND KAT SAUNDERS
Last Thursday, hundreds of Mary Washington students assembled in response to a graphic four-hour anti-abortion demonstration by an off-campus group in Ball Circle—some rubbernecking, others heartily protesting.
Approximately 35 members of Life and Liberty Ministries, a “Christian outreach” group based in Powhatan, Va., stationed themselves around campus beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday. They passed out pro-life literature and displayed over-size posters of what they said were aborted fetuses.
UMW police soon ordered the group—some of whom were children—to move their activities to Ball Circle, which the school has designated as a “Free Speech area” where groups can gather as long as they agree to not use amplification or disrupt classes.
Dennis Green, head organizer of the group, said he felt that everyone from his group acted appropriately and were open to debate with students.
“We’re here to abide by the law and speak peacefully,” said Green.
Many students complained that the anti-abortion protesters were inappropriate and offensive.
Sophomore Annie Kinniburgh said, “I’m willing to let them have their views. I’m more offended by the way they choose to present them because I think it’s a gross display of shock tactics. I don’t agree with that on any issue, but this one in particular.”
Several students complained about what they said was the protesters’ harassment of students, the graphic images on display, and the use of young children in the demonstration.
Green defended Life and Liberty’s protest methods as justified.
“Most people who are pro-abortion don’t like these images because it totally guts their argument because it shows it truly is a human baby, and once you’ve established that, you’re arguing whether it’s okay to kill a human baby,” he said.
“If its okay to abort a baby, than these images ought to be used by the ‘pro-aborts’ because it would support their arguments.”
Sophomore Varin Zimmerman, who attended the protest for 2 1/2 hours, was outraged over the insults she received from demonstrators.
“This was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration, but they were calling people Nazis and telling me and other girls to put on more clothes,” Zimmerman said.
Reverend Frederick Edlefsen, Chaplain of Catholic Campus Ministries, said that although the CCM is an anti abortion organization, they also did not support the demonstrations.
“The CCM opposes this activity because we do not believe that the pro-life message should be conveyed through graphic or grotesque images, or for that matter, by means which evoke irrational reactions rather than rational thought,” said Edlefsen.
Students have even created several Facebook groups expressing their disgust with demonstrators’ use of gruesome pictures. One such group is named “Holding pictures of dead babies does not encourage me to agree with you.”
Exchanges between protesters and students ranged from calm conversation to shouting matches.
A number of students carried handmade signs, one reading, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” while other students chanted: “Keep it legal.”
At one point, a male student took off his pants and a female student made her way through the crowd in just her bra and skirt.
Three campus police arrived on the scene and called for backup from Fredericksburg police and erected a temporary barricade because of the increasingly intense exchanges between protesters and students.
UMW Police Chief James Snipes said that at one point a Life and Liberty Ministries speaker stood on a stepladder with students just inches away from him.
“We wanted to give both groups some space,” said Snipes.
Snipes estimated that at many as 150 to 200 UMW students engaged in the protest.
Life and Liberty demonstrators were scheduled to leave at 4 p.m., but chose to leave 40 minutes early.
Campus police followed them off campus to ensure that they did not attempt to continue their demonstration elsewhere besides Ball Circle.
Some students criticized the University for permitting the protesters to remain on campus.
University officials explained that any individual has the right to address the campus under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
“Institutions of higher education, of all organizations, should support the practice of free speech and expression given our educational mission,” said acting university President Rick Hurley.
Bernard Chirico, vice president for Student Affairs, said he was pleased with the tone of the UMW students’ response to the visitors..
“It was great to have students expressing their feelings about the demonstration, engaging in discussion and showing passion about what they believe in,” he said.