Some of the photos included in this post are of a display on VCU campus last Monday. The display featured large, graphic imagery of dismembered body parts and bloody fetuses. The link to The Center for Bio-ethical Reform’s website redirects to a page (abortionno.org) which automatically plays a video of a fetus being pulled from a woman’s uterus using a clamp.
VCU’s compass swarmed with students both intrigued and utterly disgusted by The Center for Bio-ethical Reform’s (CBR) graphic and highly controversial display promoting pro-life ideology on Monday.
The “Genocide Awareness Project” featured particularly gory photographs of bloody, dismembered fetuses in an attempt to compare abortion to genocide and honor killings in other countries.
“When people see arms and legs and fingers and toes and these arms have been pulled off human bodies, they’re easily recognizable as human beings,” said Fletcher Armstrong, the Southeast Region Director of CBR.
Armstrong said he considered the photographs to be a vital aspect of the display and necessary for properly educating the public on the reality of abortion. Armstrong referred to the compass as a “public space” and said the university granted the CBR permission to congregate there.
But for many students on Monday, concerns were not focused on acknowledging the CBR’s right to free speech and assembly, but on the university’s failure to warn students about the disturbing imagery before the display was resurrected.
VCU senior Caitlin Ellmore said the university was not at fault for allowing the CBR on campus, but rather for neglecting to inform students of potentially “triggering” images.
“No one should be subjected to see this unless they want to,” Ellmore said after throwing herself into the middle of controversy when she volunteered with Planned Parenthood to protest the display.
And Ellmore is right.
The CBR fully possessed the right to assemble, but the mental health of VCU’s student population was placed on the back burner when the university failed to notify students of the organization’s presence on campus beforehand.
Boasting massive, graphic images tied to tall metal poles in order to be seen from a distance, the display was practically unavoidable.
With more than 30,000 students enrolled at VCU, there’s a strong likelihood at least one female student who has experienced rape or abortion was inadvertently subjected to the display while strolling through campus. Exposure to the display could have easily triggered such a student and forced her to relive the traumatic events from her past.
The university is admirable for standing behind the First Amendment, but did not take the necessary precautions to protect its students from possible emotional harm. As a community that perpetually prides itself on its safe spaces and inclusivity, failure to provide students with a trigger warning for CBR’s gruesome photographs is unacceptable.
To put the situation into perspective, let’s consider the world of entertainment:
Filmmakers and video game designers have the right to create content as they please, but are required to rate their content based on age-appropriateness in order to warn audiences of potentially disturbing content. They do not have the right to impose said content on others.
These age-based ratings on movies, television and video games could be considered watered-down versions of trigger warnings for the sake of this argument. Audiences are presented with the opportunity to turn down upsetting content if they would prefer not to view it — but VCU students were not given this option.
The display was not only harmful to women on campus who have had to make the difficult, life-changing choice for themselves and their families not to continue a pregnancy; it was disrespectful to the communities who endured actual genocides and egregious human rights violations.
Making a decision about your body is not in any way akin to a group systematically and intentionally slaughtering entire families and communities for the sake of maintaining a cruel political power structure or agenda.
Furthermore, the church-based organization’s website boasts about a number of lawsuits against “pro-aborts” or dissenters to include: Indiana University, a middle school, the Los Angeles School District and County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and Ohio Law Enforcement.
The organization also brags about preparing “major lawsuits” against “pro-aborts” and “pro-aborts who falsely accuse us of ‘photo fraud.'”
This is not only bizarre but reeks of a scam for settlement money. The textbook the CBR listed as “proof” of the imagery presented in the display is “The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology,” which has been heralded by organizations such as National Right to Life News and LifeNews.com.
This is reinforced by the CBR’s own website which automatically plays a video of a fetus being pulled out of a woman using a clamp, and intentionally disregards women’s option to discontinue a pregnancy using oral medication at clinics such as Planned Parenthood.
Additionally, this is not a nation of Christians. The First Amendment dually protects organizations such as the CBR and their right to free speech, just as it does every citizen’s right to religion and not be subjected to the practices of any one in particular.
At Indiana University — one of the public institutions the CBR has sued — the editorial board of the student newspaper condemned then-Gov. Mike Pence, now Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate, for signing HEA 1337 into law.
The law criminalized the use of fetal tissue in medical studies and according to the editorial, IU researchers could face felony charges for conducting such research. This research is also known as “stem cell research.”
This directly hinders scientific progress. The June 2016 editorial states IU researchers use fetal tissue in efforts to find cures for autism, Alzheimer’s and a number of other conditions.
Furthermore, for the thousands of VCU students who pay tuition to attend the institution, some were just as aggravated about the presence of outside organizations when student organizations have difficulty securing space in the Compass.
Vice President of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority Marley Hodson found her experience with VCU’s process for acquiring approval to hold events in the compass especially frustrating. After repeatedly being denied approval for numerous philanthropy events, Hodson said the organization was forced to hold the events off-campus.
Hodson said she found the regulations imposed on student organizations requesting approval to hold events to be unnecessarily strict, especially when the university is seemingly giving precedence to outside organizations over VCU student organizations raising money for the community.
“Every single member of organizations here at VCU is paying tuition and yet VCU favors outsiders, which needs to change,” Hodson said. “Students are working to benefit the community and earn money for our philanthropies and we shouldn’t have to go off campus to do that.”
Eleanor is a junior print journalism and philosophy double major with a concentration in ethics and public policy. She often writes about issues of social justice and human rights, and her dream career would include traveling the world as a documentary filmmaker. You can usually find Eleanor binge watching an entire television series in one night or planning her next backpacking trip.
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