Student group puts graphic images on Coffman lawn

Jon Collins

A two-day presentation featuring large, graphic images likening abortion to genocide began Tuesday on the Coffman Union lawn.

The event, which was brought to the University by the Students for Human Life group, juxtaposes pictures of racial lynchings, the Holocaust and animal cruelty with pictures of aborted fetuses.

The display, labeled The Genocide Awareness Project, consists of 14 4×8 color posters and a video of an abortion being performed. It has toured nationally around college campuses by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, or CBR.

CBR spokeswoman Marlys Honeyman said the display’s disturbing images are intended to create debate around the idea that “abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby.”

“This is what Martin Luther King calls ‘creative tension,’ ” Honeyman said. “We’d rather have passionate responses one way or another, rather than indifference, because we’d like people to be thinking about abortion.”

Leona Jovanovich, nursing junior and founder of Students for Human Life, said the images portray the “reality of abortion.”

“Abortion is very graphic,” she said. “It’s terrible, it’s bloody, it’s revolting – it’s reality.”

A controversial comparison

Many University community members felt the comparison between genocide and abortion was inappropriate.

Ellen Kennedy, interim director for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, called likening the two a “horrific moral injustice.”

“Perhaps the most important issue is that abortion is not a specific targeting based on race, religion, ethnicity or national origin,” she said. “Those are the criteria that are spelled out in the genocide convention that defines genocide.”

Kennedy said the display is designed for shock value. She expressed particular concern with the use of Holocaust images.

“I’m a Jew, and those are images that shake me to my core,” she said. “To conflate genocide with abortion, I think, is a horrific injustice to do to those who are victims of genocide.”

The genocide analogy oversimplifies the experiences of women who have abortions, University Coalition for Choice member Corrie Halladay said.

“Women of the world are not uniting to try and kill unborn children,” she said. “(Abortion) is a difficult choice, and to show these pictures was silencing all the women who had all these really difficult experiences.”

Kirk Allison, Students for Human Life adviser and director for the program of human rights in health, said he has not yet seen the display, and could not comment on whether the comparison between genocide and abortion was appropriate.

In a general comparison of the two, Allison said, “It’s important to make some distinctions.”

“In the area of abortion, there’s not the kind of organized intent for doing this, and the responsibility for the choices people make lie with the individuals who are making them,” Allison said.

Some in the UCC questioned the validity of the facts presented by the display, as well as the realism of what was portrayed in the pictures.

“Some of the things I felt were really falsified,” UCC member and art history senior Kaitlin Sergenian said. “Maybe they believe it in their own organization, but it’s (set up) to get people to pay attention to it.”

Honeyman said the pictures are real, but couldn’t reveal their source.

“For security reasons we can’t disclose exactly where we got those,” Honeyman said. “The person who got those pictures is in great endangerment to his life.”

Honeyman said the group’s presentation causes a lot of controversy and often alienates other anti-abortion groups.

“People on the pro-life stand don’t understand how effective it is,” she said. “They think, ‘Well, we can’t ever make anyone angry with us because that means we’re losing.’ That’s not the case.”

The images were fenced off by a four-foot metal barrier and filmed by surveillance cameras because they have drawn protests in the past, including one at the University of Washington, where demonstrators demolished the images, Honeyman said.

She said CBR often targets college campuses because college students are the most likely to have an abortion.

“Students are forming their own opinions about different issues,” she said. “We want them to be well-informed.”

CBR organizers said the average cost of each presentation is between $4,000 and $10,000, most of which is spent on literature and travel costs. Since Students for Human Life is a student group, there wasn’t any cost to reserve the space.

Students react

The presentation evoked a variety of reactions from students.

Joe Francaviglia, a first-year political science major, said the presentation tactics weren’t effective in starting a discourse.

“It’s shock value,” he said. “They’re not going to get any real conversations going.”

Jenna Zurn, senior psychology major, said the display was “a little extreme,” and didn’t accurately examine the whole issue of abortion.

“These people could have gotten raped,” she said.

First-year student Adam Jass said it’s important that these images are in the public view because people need to see them, but most wouldn’t actively seek them out.

“It’s beautifully grotesque,” he said.