For the past two days at UNC, a non-campus affiliated organization called “Genocide Awareness Project” (GAP) set up posters and handed out flyers on Polk Place (the main quad) on campus. When I first saw them setting up bright, orange signs I thought it was for Holocaust awareness. I’d had friends last week standing in the Pit (UNC’s outdoor hub) reading names of Holocaust victims for 24 hours. I assumed it was work continuing for victims of genocide, particularly the Holocaust.
Instead, what I saw were graphic images of aborted fetuses, Nazi swastikas, and lots of pamphlets. This double-decker display of supposedly medically accurate photographs of aborted fetuses were compared to the atrocities of the Holocaust and lynching of African Americans. It was obvious that the Genocide Awareness Project’s mission was clearly pro-life. Before I dive into a recounting of my day’s reflections on abortion, I want to be very personal with this post, so I’ll start with this. Whether or not you agree with my feelings toward abortion, that is fine, I understand, but hopefully by the end of this post, we can both agree that Genocide Awareness Project’s marketing strategies are contextually false and vulgar. And, hopefully, you can understand my ideas for America coming to terms with abortion.
Let’s start with where I stand, then we’ll move on to GAP. I am pro-choice. While I cannot personally imagine myself ever making the decision to have an abortion, I have also never been in this situation. But I do believe that women have every right to make their own decisions with their bodies. If an abortion is the right decision for a woman, I want her to feel empowered and supported in that decision. Every scenario, decision, and circumstance is different for each and every woman. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, it means pro-options, pro-support, pro-women.
GAP strategically placed themselves on arguably the most walked stretch of campus. They were smack dab in the middle of Polk Place, where everyone walks through at least once a day. I also saw that GAP had a truck driving around today with blown-up pictures of aborted fetuses on the sides. I know that GAP travels around various college campuses, but I have to think that UNC was a poor choice on GAP’s part. The student population, I would venture to say, is majority liberal-leaning, especially on social issues. I doubt they changed any UNC student’s mind, but they made a lot of people angry, upset, and confused.
I could see the poster display from most corners of main campus, but I made it a point to only walk by once. I didn’t want to be caught up in a heated debate (I knew I wasn’t going to change any minds, and they weren’t going to change mine), and I didn’t want to stare at the posters, giving in to GAP’s strategies. When I first saw the images, from about 100 yards away, I almost became sick. I ran to the bathroom, afraid I was going to be ill. It was not the images themselves that triggered this, but the manner in which they were going to be used. It broke my heart that these graphic images were being used so out of context to make a visceral point. My opinions are based from a point where women are supported and feel safe. But these posters vilified women, shamed them, and berated them. They took “untouched” photos (GAP backs their photography by saying it is supported by – one! ONE! – mysterious doctor/lawyer Anthony Levantino) out of context of a woman’s struggle and decision to have an abortion, and made them shameful and horrendous.
If you’re really all that curious about GAP, you can check out their shitty (sorry, but it’s true) website chalked full of typos/misspellings, graphic images, and apparent testimonies. Be warned if this may trigger something for you, the website immediately displays graphic images and a video. But, otherwise, let’s move on.
I was thoroughly impressed with UNC student’s response to the display. Before GAP had even finished setting up, multiple Facebook groups and events had been created for UNC student reference. There was a protest against GAP centered around the theme of #KeepUNCSafe. This was a peaceful demonstration to foster empowerment, safety, and support. There were maps posted on Facebook of alternate routes on campus, even wheelchair specific ones, to avoid the displays. These maps were particularly for people that may be triggered by this type of display. This could be women who have experienced having an abortion, debated it, or any other number of reasons (just disliking it, like me) and GAP’s posters could trigger anxiety, depression, etc. Early on in the day, there was a table set-up outside the Campus Y, UNC’s social justice center, for people to come decompress after seeing the display. Today there was a nearby table of students passing out accurate, supportive information on sexual health and condoms. Students were very supportive throughout the last two days. And while I think GAP’s work is wrong and harmful, I was pleased that my campus responded by listening, supporting, and empowering each other.
The biggest problem I have with GAP’s work is their tone that criminalizes abortion. After another week of presidential candidate Donald Trump attempting to re-articulate his stance on abortion, I know that criminalizing abortion is simply not the answer. No success comes from criminalizing abortion; women will still seek it out. This can be inferred as the drug option for abortion is becoming more popular than surgical abortion. One of the two pills taken for the medicinal abortion option is misoprostol; it is 80% effective in abortion by itself and is very cheap. With early abortion options becoming cheaper and easier to access, no matter your stance on abortion, criminalizing it would be the worst option. GAP’s work is particularly vulgar in cases of women who have been raped and have become pregnant because of it. Rape is a traumatic event and every woman should have the option of abortion after becoming pregnant from rape. If you really want to decrease abortion, you shouldn’t criminalize it, but instead have wide-spread sexual health information (sex-ed in America is a JOKE, but that’s for another time), safe abortion clinics, mental/emotional health services, and adoptive care services.
Next to GAP’s posters was a free speech board where people could write their thoughts and feelings. One person wrote “What if you cared this much about the children that are alive today?” I was inspired by his/her comment and paused to reflect on scenarios of abortion in the US. So, let’s play into GAP’s pro-life stance for just a moment. GAP often recommends adoption over abortion, but while adoption services are available for women who do not want to have an abortion, or want to give their child an opportunity for a better life, adoption isn’t necessarily the best route for children in America. While there are many outstanding stories of loving, happy foster care families, I hear just as many stories of rape, abuse, and assault in foster care services. The mixed public-private and bureaucratic organization of child services in America leaves many children to fall through the cracks and abuse reports to never be followed through. Best case scenario, both abortion and adoptive services in America are safe and supportive. But, to achieve this, people would have to think beyond the graphic images of GAP and onto some larger issues.
So, what if we did the radical? What if we indulged children? What if, instead of focusing on displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses, we made the adoption and foster care services in America safe and welcoming? What if we switched the conversation of abortion from criminalizing and shameful to empowered? This, I know, would most likely call for an overhaul of the family planning and child services systems, lots of money and regulation, but just pause for a moment and think – what if we gave every mother and every child the fair chance to be loved and supported? These are big questions that I don’t have all the logistical answers for, but I do know the hearts and minds of American people (specifically policy makers) must focus on recognizing women’s autonomous body rights and giving every child a fair shot at a safe, loving home.
Let’s overlook Genocide Awareness Project’s ridiculous, vulgar attempts at pro-life marketing, and let’s look into supporting and loving the women and children we have today.
“Women are not an interest group. They are mothers, and daughters, and sisters, and wives. They are half of this country and they are perfectly capable of making their own choices about their health.” – President Obama