About half a dozen pro-life activists have set up displays outside the Frederic Lasserre Building, displaying what one sign calls the “insanity of choice” and equating abortion to the Holocaust or Cambodian genocide.
“When we make the comparison, we're not exactly saying that genocide is completely identical. What we're saying is genocide comes from dehumanization. When people are killed from abortion, they're killed because their humanity is taken away,” said Mark Goudie, a student member of UBC Lifeline, who put on the event.
According to Goudie, they’ve put up displays such as this for several years. The first was in 2001 and has since occurred annually. UBC Campus Security was on scene, but remained observers.
“The understanding is that these demonstrations are peaceful, that they respect others. We’ve got two areas for [the pro-life and the pro-choice groups and] we normally separate them,” said Barry Eccleton, head of campus security. “If we foresaw that there was going to be an issue, then we would step in. We talk to these groups at the outset to clarify the understanding of why they’re there but we allow any groups to come, provided they’re respectful.”
Campus security remains alert for issues given the polarizing nature of the topic of abortion. Goudie acknowledged that he has faced backlash for similar displays, but remains steadfast in his mission, which, he said, is not to make all abortion illegal, but to reach a place in which women simply wouldn’t consider abortion.
Goudie expressed that this is a lofty goal, but remains certain in his characterization of abortion as murder, saying that “abortion is a horrifically violent procedure that tears children limb from limb.”
According to Planned Parenthood, however, an abortion largely involves stretching the cervix so that the uterus may be emptied.
“I don’t agree with [the protest], I don’t like it, I think it’s quite tasteless,” said Andrew Liang, a third-year international relations major and bystander at the protest. “But again, in a liberal society, we have to cross things that we don’t agree with. We have to see things that we don’t like. That doesn’t mean that we go out and ban it ... there’s a proper middle ground to take.”
Goudie is less steadfast on whether women who have abortions should be charged with murder, given his definition of the procedure as such.
“That’s a muddier issue,” he told The Ubyssey. “A lot of women chose to have abortions because society has failed them and because they’re in really hard circumstances.”
Factually, this is debatable — in 2004 the Guttmacher Institute, an American non-profit organization which does policy research on sexual and reproductive health, published a study which found that the most common reason given for abortions was that having a baby would drastically change the woman’s life, either by interfering with her career or education.
At present, campus security has not taken a stance on the controversial displays or their graphic imagery.
“The university is a place where freedom of expression is permitted,” said Eccleton. “If things got heated between the two groups, for instance, and there was a risk of provocation, then we’d step in.”
A group of pro-choice activists have since gathered to protest the pro-life set up.
UPDATE: The AMS has released a statement against the anti-abortion activists. “The AMS does not endorse the messaging of [Abortion Awareness Project], nor does it provide resources financially or otherwise support this project,” said Aaron Bailey, AMS president, in the statement.
“In recognition of the triggering nature of the images, the AMS has worked closely with the VP Students office and UBC Campus Security to ensure that the displays are re-located to areas of campus where students can avoid if they so choose.”
The statement pointed students in need of support towards the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre and UBC Counselling Services, as well as the VP Students’ office to voice any concerns felt.