Conflicting public abortion demonstrations resulted in police presence on campus Friday, when pro-choice demonstrators erased pro-life messages from the sidewalk and stepped on their microphone wire in Osprey Plaza.
Student Union staff requested UNFPD to come supervise the scene of the events, after the pro-choice group stepped on top of a microphone cable, preventing pro-life representatives from speaking to the audience.
According to Jennifer Nutt, Associate Director of the Student Union Administration, the staff called UNFPD to monitor the event as a “general public safety” measure.
“We didn’t call them to address any specific situation at the time,” Nutt said. “We just felt that it might get to a situation where we might need them for the safety of everyone involved.”
Students protested against Created Equal, a non-profit pro-life group based in Columbus, OH, that tours college campuses, by holding signs in support of the pro-choice viewpoint.
Tensions rose when the two groups started confronting each other’s beliefs.
Beginning at 9 a.m., around two dozen members of Created Equal came to campus displaying graphic abortion signs. They wore black shirts with the Created Equal logo and slogans such as “End Ageism. End Abortion,” on the back of their shirts.
“We’re here because abortion is the direct intentional killing of an innocent human being,” said Seth Drayer, a Created Equal representative.
The pro-life group spread through the Student Union Plaza and continued its line of followers up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s statue located in Peace Plaza. Teenagers, elderly citizens and young representatives formed a line and displayed large imagery of graphic abortion situations.
“Abortion is discrimination against the youth and that’s why I am here, to fight this injustice,” said Rebecca Burtch, another Created Equal representative.
This time, however, UNF students were ready to stand in opposition. Rachel O’Brien, a junior studying graphic design, said she felt fed-up when she found out the anti-abortion group was coming back on campus.
“I have seen people walk away crying, people get yelled at, graphic imagery and misinformation in a lot of cases,” said O’Brien. “Anyone who can get pregnant has the right to choose if she wishes to stay pregnant.”
O’Brien started a Facebook Group inviting all her friends to come advocate for the cause. She sat in front of the Student Union Plaza facing the anti-abortion signage, holding signs of her own that read “Want to stop abortion? Offer Sex-ed and contraceptives,” and “Your body, your choice.”
A group of female students also came to support the pro-choice counter protest started by O’Brien. The group sat in the grass in front of the Brooks College of Health building, some steps away from O’Brien’s spot.
Students Tianna De Salvo, Katie Cavanaugh and Maria Bermudez explained why they felt the need to support this demonstration.
“Personally I have experienced rape and I would never want to have that person’s child. I would never want to go through that,” Cavanaugh said, arguing that continuing an undesired pregnancy could affect the mother severely.”
Even though some students felt uncomfortable with Created Equal’s presence, their right to free speech protects them and allows them to do their annual protest at UNF.
“I think these people are almost like invading your space,” said De Salvo. “But freedom of speech is something that UNF represents, which is why we can be here and they can be here at the same time.”
Aubrey Drayer, a Created Equal representative, argued that the display of these images is necessary to enlighten and inform students of what an abortion consists of.
“We know that people will feel bad and that’s not why we bring the signs,” said Drayer. “We do not want to cause pain to people, but if abortion is hidden, people won’t know what choice they’re making.”
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