Anti-abortion group catalyzes controversy on campus

Josh Linehan

A large display by a national anti-abortion group sparked discussion and revulsion on the Northrop Plaza on Monday.

The three-sided, ten-foot-high display included grisly photographs of late-term aborted embryos and fetuses, as well as arguments against abortion.

The display was sponsored by the national nonprofit organization Justice For All: Students for Bioethical Diversity. The University’s chapter invited the traveling exhibit to campus.

Most passersby couldn’t help but pause and examine the graphic imagery. Sporadic debates flared and then faded as participants left for class or simply quit arguing.

Some students pointedly turned their chairs away from the display and read or ate lunch.

David Lee, national director of JAF, did not apologize for the graphic nature of the display, saying the images are intended to provoke dialogue.

“Our question for those who are upset about the graphic nature of the display is to ask if they are more opposed to the photographs or to the actions,” Lee said. “If the pictures are upsetting, shouldn’t the practice be?”

“It sounds sort of selfish, frankly,” he said.

Foot traffic near the exhibit was slow Monday morning but picked up in the afternoon as students who normally spend downtime on the mall were confronted with the display, as well as an appearance by campus evangelist Brother Jed.

Free speech boards were provided at either end of the exhibit for observers to write comments.

One anonymous visitor wrote, “I am offended, disgusted and upset that this is even allowed here.”

Officials at the Student Activities Office, formerly the Campus Involvement Center, said any student group that applies to reserve space may display exhibits as long as they do not use amplified sound and have proper permits for anything else they wish to do, such as serve food.

Legally, the University cannot deny a group’s request based on the content of the exhibit it wishes to display.

The group ran into controversy following a February 2001 visit to the University of TexasñAustin. There, pro- and anti-abortion groups clashed, prompting numerous freedom of speech debates at that campus.

Jane Miscavige, a spokeswoman for Minnesota/South Dakota Planned Parenthood, said graphic displays like the one erected by JAF often backfire and serve more to inflame emotions than to promote honest discourse.

“Most citizens are smart enough to make their own decisions about these issues. An exhibit intended to shock, scare and intimidate those who view it isn’t likely to be successful,” she said.

Lee said foot traffic at the exhibit was “a little slow” Monday, citing the display’s location and a possible reluctance of students at a metropolitan campus to engage in debate as possible causes.

The display is scheduled to remain on the plaza through Thursday.

Josh Linehan covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]