Yesterday on Ho Plaza, supporters from both sides of the abortion controversy expressed their views and engaged passing bystanders in debate.
The pro-life organization Cornell Coalition for Life (CCFL) displayed large, graphic posters designed by the Center for Bioethical Reform as part of their “Genocide Awareness Project.” Organizers said the posters will remain on display through this afternoon. Among other comparisons, the posters linked the killing fields of Cambodia to the system of abortion in America, and the S.S. and the KKK to Planned Parenthood. About seven members of CCFL provided additional information about the pro-life movement and phone numbers for abortion alternatives.
In response, a campus pro-choice organization Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE) organized a counter protest with Planned Parenthood of Tompkins County. Throughout the day, about twenty protesters wore signs declaring, “Pro-life is anti-choice; pro-choice is not anti-life” and “Those who care about victims of genocide won’t exploit them,” while handing out information and condoms. Their petition to protect the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision garnered about 150 signatures.
Both sides said they hoped to provide information and create a forum for open dialogue.
“We’re doing this because we feel that although a university is a place where people are supposed to have open minds about things, we don’t feel that’s the case with abortion here at Cornell,” said Sean Breheny grad, president of CCFL.
He said he hopes that after viewing these displays, people have a different impression of the nature of abortion.
“Even though abortion is one of the most common surgeries in the United States, you never see it,” he said. “We want people to have more of an open mind, we want them to see it.”
In opposition, representatives from SAGE and Planned Parenthood claimed that the posters misrepresented the situation.
“What these posters fail to recognize is that women have lives too,” said K-T Varley ’03, the campus organizer for Planned Parenthood. “If we call abortion murder, we’re giving a second-class citizenship to women and denying them an autonomous decision.”
Other protesters said that the comparisons between historical genocide and abortion were unfair.
“I’m not sure who can leave this exhibit without the idea that women who choose to have an abortion are equated with being genocidal murders,” said Janet Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work.
Some pro-choice supporters said that the displays stifled discussion rather than encouraged it.
“We feel that the information CCFL has out is reactionary and it’s not based on giving people information about their choices, but manipulating their emotions,” said Sandra Fluke ’03, the treasurer of SAGE. “We want to show people they should have a choice about a decision this important and whatever choice they make, we’ll support it.”
However, CCFL members contented that the pro-choice movement does not truly offer women choice.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what real choice is. There are more proactive solutions than being ‘pro-choice,'” said Ana Cajina ’04, a CCFL member. “Giving out birth control and condoms isn’t going to cut it.”
In addition, she said that the members of SAGE called the CCFL members names and discouraged debate.
“I think that if you’re going to be pro-choice, it’s sad if you can’t engage in discussion,” she said. “Both sides of the argument need to think beyond the box.”
Onlookers had a variety of reactions to the displays. While many felt the visuals had an impact, others found themselves confused by the close physical proximity of the opposing viewpoints.
“It’s very striking. It’s definitely thought-provoking,” said Yasir Naway ’05. “Looking at these pictures [makes me think] about how I integrate myself in different views of society. But looking at the other side, you have to give all of these individuals respect.”
Some supported the CCFL’s effort and hoped the displays would spark discussion on campus.
“I think the comparison is an interesting one and a compelling one,” said Ryan Horn grad, president of the Cornell Republicans.
For others, the displays raised questions about their views on the subject.
“This is a little bit over-dramatic, but it does make a good point,” said Alan Zhou ’03. “This definitely makes me rethink [my views] a bit.”
However, some observers objected to the comparisons the posters made.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate