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Genocide Awareness Project incites abortion debate

By Farah Casalini
On November 7, 2011

  • The Genocide Awareness Project displayed imagery of aborted fetuses and battered children outside the Memorial Union yesterday. For more photos of the demonstration turn to page 10. Teresa Kelly


An array of poster-sized graphic images of aborted fetuses hung outside the the University of Rhode Island's Memorial Union yesterday, causing campus-wide controversy and sparking a counter-demonstration by students across the street from the demonstration.

The URI College Republicans (CR) hosted the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), sponsored by the Center for Bio-Ethical Research (CBR) yesterday. In an effort to convey the effects of abortion on humanity, the GAP travels to college campuses, handing out brochures and presenting graphic posters of disfigured fetuses, lynched African-Americans and victims of the Holocaust, CBR Northeast director Leslie Sneddon said.

Essentially, the GAP attempts to convey is the conceptual similarities that exist between abortion and genocide, according to the group's brochure and website, with an ultimate goal of making abortion illegal.

"Our purpose is to show the humanity of a child," Sneddon said. "And the inhumanity of abortion."

However, URI lecturer Jeffrey Bachmann, who will be teaching a course in genocide next semester, said the CBR's rationalization is deceptive and incorrect.

"The GAP is attempting to redefine genocide to include a medical procedure that is protected by Roe v. Wade," he said. "Abortion is not genocide."

Sneddon justified their use use of graphic images by comparing it to Martin Luther King's use of graphic images to protest the lynching of African-Americans. She explained during that time period no one wanted to see the pictures either.

"When injustices are hidden, they are tolerated," she said. "But when they are exposed, they are untolerated."

CR president James McMahon said he agreed to host the GAP because he and other CR members believe in the importance of allowing a group to convey their message. McMahon said he not only expected controversy because of the demonstration, but that it was encouraged and hoped for.

"It's disagreeing that spurs conversation," he said. "Otherwise there is no opportunity to change your mind."

Approximately 30 students responded to the demonstration and held a counter-demonstration across the street from the Union, holding signs that said, "I support your right to choose" and "Abortion is NOT Genocide."

Sophomore Maddy Morrin, who led the counter-demonstration, said it wasn't the GAP's stance on abortion she was protesting , but the ways in which the group was demonstrating their ideas, including the use of swastikas and graphic images.

"I object to the use of graphic images for political gain," she said. "I don't think they are educating, more than they are psychologically manipulating."

Amanda Mazzu, a junior pharmacy major, said the graphic photos were irrelevant, tasteless and being used for "emotional warfare" rather than informational purposes.

"I saw the huge, obnoxious display and I was absolutely appalled at the behavior of the people in charge of the demonstration," she said.

Other students debated with GAP staff members, discussing their thoughts and concerns with the demonstration, while URI police officers kept close to ensure a peaceful atmosphere.

URI junior Alyssa Jeffers, who spoke to one of the GAP members briefly, said she found the demonstration to be ridiculous, offensive and religiously intolerant.

Women's Studies Director Jody Lisberger, who believes in the right to choose, named her main concern as the public use of hate speech, referring to the swastikas. While she believes in the first amendment right to protest and speak, she denounces the use of swastikas in their demonstration.

"I don't believe the message shows open discussion or reveals the complex elements of abortion," she said.

She added instead of handling hate speech instances case by case, the university should have a blanket no-tolerance policy against the use of hate speech.

However, [Vice President of Student Affairs] Thomas Dougan,  said the demonstration's use of swastikas is "no different" than faculty talking about genocide in the classrooms, which it is not a violation of policy.

"The College Republicans have a right to express their views," Dougan said.

Lisberger encourages students to express their concerns to higher education and create alternate routes to the Union so students can avoid the demonstration, while Bachmann said to avoid engaging with the CBR representatives.

"I think the best way to protest this event is to symbolically remove CBR's voice by ensuring it falls on deaf ears," Bachmann said.

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