Kelton Holsen, Managing Editor
Students walking across campus last Wednesday may have noticed protesters handing out pamphlets with a large eye on the front and the words “Stay Woke” emblazoned in large white letters. The individuals distributing these pamphlets were members of an anti-abortion group called Human Life Alliance, based out of Blaine.
The demonstrators approached students walking past on public sidewalks near the Christensen Center, Lindell Library and Oren Gateway Center, asking them if they cared about human rights and distributing the pamphlets. They also placed several of the pamphlets on newsstands around campus and pinned some to on-campus poster boards without the approval of the Copy Center. The demonstrators held a large sign that had a picture of a human fetus with the phrase “When Does Life Begin?” written above it on one side and diagrams that the group alleges represent abortion procedures on the other.
“I don’t like anybody that tries to push their agenda of stuff that I don’t believe on me,” said Ella Terman, an Augsburg student who was approached by the protesters. “I hate that they’re trying to make it seem like it’s anybody’s choice but my own…what I should be doing with my body.”
One of the demonstrators, who said her name was Evie, described the group’s purpose in demonstrating at Augsburg as “passing out literature and talking about human rights and the science of embryology.” When asked, she clarified that the group was an anti-abortion group. She said that the group was also protesting at several other college campuses in order to “initiate” students.
The pamphlets handed out by the group were 15 pages long and contained anti-abortion arguments from various angles. Notably, the pamphlet argues that abortion rights are disempowering to women, that abortion causes direct physical harm to women who get abortions, and that abortion is specifically targeted at communities of color. Most of the arguments in the pamphlet are rooted in the belief that abortion is murder and that both Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton should be overturned.
Adriane Brown, director of Augsburg’s Women’s Resource Center, is critical of these claims. “The Women’s Resource Center operates out of a framework of Reproductive Justice (RJ). As defined by SisterSong, a women of color reproductive justice collective, RJ is ‘the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,'” said Brown in a statement to the Echo. “Abortion is part of Reproductive Justice-based feminist activism not because individual women should be able to make their own choices, but because the denial of access to birth control, abortion, informed consent, reproductive technologies, affordable child care, quality health care, safe neighborhoods, and equitable education are all incarnations of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, and cissexism.”
Brown specifically addressed the pamphlet’s argument that communities of color are targeted by abortion services.
“Under a reproductive justice framework, it is essential to acknowledge that many of the things we associate with ‘choice’ were initially tested on women of color without their consent,” said Brown. “…Anti-choice activists that target communities of color often do so by framing abortion as racial genocide… and by denigrating feminism’s history of not caring about people of color. ..[N]one of this means that abortion should be illegal or birth control access should be restricted; rather, these critiques should be part of a broader Reproductive Justice framework and a reframing of what access actually means. It is disingenuous for anti-choice activists to target communities of color when they do not also support building ‘safe and sustainable communities’ for the children people do have.”
Some of the claims made in the pamphlets are not as scientifically proven as they are made out to be, or are in Brown’s words, “flatout misinformation”. For instance, the pamphlet claims that women with previous abortions have a 44 percent greater chance to develop breast cancer; however, this claim is based on a single study, and after a review of the literature, the American Cancer Society has come to the conclusion that “the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.” Brown also pointed out that the ‘helplines’ which the pamphlet refers its readers to all belong to evangelical Christian organizations and thus “are not going to offer a broad array of resources”.
These demonstrators are not the first protesters to come to Augsburg this semester. On Oct. 16, a man commonly referred to as “Sign Guy” made his usual annual appearance on the sidewalk outside the quad, holding a large sign covered in fundamentalist Christian messages and shouting bigoted statements at student passersby, many of whom stopped to argue with him. Like the anti-abortion protesters, Sign Guy also made use of a loophole that allowed him to protest on campus by occupying a sidewalk that is technically public property.
Ann Garvey, Vice President of Student Affairs, said the following in an official statement to the Echo: “Augsburg also is committed to the free expression of an array of voices and opinions both on and off campus. Free speech provides opportunities for voices we agree with and voices we disagree with…[I]t is our assumption that the people who came to our campus are seeking to have their voices heard and to seek engagement and they likely will return if engaged with by our community. The Augsburg community has traditionally engaged with or ignored these messages in a civil manner…[T]hey have been on areas just outside of campus – in this case, public sidewalks. From a legal perspective, Augsburg can’t take action in such cases unless a protestor is on Augsburg property, blocking the right of way of pedestrians in a public space, or otherwise violating the law.”