Protesters from a group known as the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform set up camp on North Charles Street to protest abortion rights on Tuesday. The group also protested last spring. Activists set up signs along the median of the street between Charles Street Market and the Beach. Organizers handed out pamphlets to passersby and advocated outlawing abortions in the United States.
These protesters were soon joined by students holding handmade signs that advocated pro-choice beliefs.
The anti-abortion advocates’ signs depicted graphic images of late-term aborted fetuses accompanied by written policy views.
“What about Rape?” one sign asked. “In some cultures, rape victims are executed by their humiliated male relatives in so-called ‘honor killings.’ In our culture, innocent babies of humiliated rape victims are executed by rapacious abortions. Is abortion less primitive and barbaric than ‘honor killings?’”
Another sign compared abortions to genocide, depicting the bodies of Holocaust victims and the hanging bodies of lynched African Americans in the American South in the 1800s. Kenn Garrison, one of the anti-abortion protesters, explained that the protest is one of many in the Genocide Awareness Project, or GAP. Garrison asserted that the Holocaust and lynching of minorities is just as egregious as abortions, as he believes that life begins at conception, and that aborting fetuses is the same as killing children.
“We want people to ask the question, ‘What is the unborn?’” Garrison said. “It is a person because of its unique characteristics, and the unique characteristics would be that it’s distinct, living and whole. That’s what makes it a person. When the sperm enters into the egg, that egg is transformed into another person.”
Student protesters took a different stance. Senior Caitlin Rosner, holding a sign that read “Get the Bible out of my vagina!” explained that she is against outlawing abortions.
“I think every woman has the right to choose what she does with her body. If she doesn’t want to have an abortion, that’s completely fine, but she should have the choice to do what she wants… A lot of this has to do with controlling a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body. It’s about control, and that’s not fair,” she said.
The pro-choice protesters picketed in an effort to combat the anti-abortion protesters, Rosner explained.
“I hope that students aren’t manipulated by these signs, so I’m trying to hold this up to make sure that they aren’t manipulated,” she said. “I think [the anti-abortion protesters] are really manipulative, especially to use something like the Holocaust to promulgate their views, which are, of course, antithetical to the Separation of Church and State in this country,” she said.
Negative responses from passersby targeted the graphic nature of the protest. The anti-abortion signs bore color images of aborted fetuses, juxtaposed with photographs of stacks of bodies killed in Nazi gas chambers.
“Obviously, it was off-putting, especially at a college campus where getting an abortion is a reality,” sophomore Eliza Schultz, president of Hopkins Feminists, said. “I think the images were most disturbing. To make the decision to get an abortion is a profoundly difficult one, and the experience itself must also be. To show the images of the aborted fetus was incredibly insensitive.”
Some, however, identified the public clash of argument and counterargument as a breath of fresh air.
“My initial thought is that it’s a good thing,” Nathan Risinger, a research assistant at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, said. “University campuses are places of higher education, and as such, they should foster diverse and often divergent viewpoints. It is important to Hopkins and the greater electorate at large to be informed about the decision they’re going to make in November. I’m for protests of any sort, be they pro-life, pro-choice, pro-war, anti-war, and I think it’s commendable that they were willing to voice their opinion. Regardless of my own opinion on the matter, I’m all for demonstration.”
Schultz conceded that the display was ultimately successful in stimulating discourse on campus.
“I think that the counter-protesters were definitely effective,” she said. “Hopkins isn’t a very politically active campus, but the anti-choicers ironically made us more active as a progressive school, especially at a time when they wouldn’t want us to be, in light of the upcoming election.”
The discourse raged on for most of Tuesday afternoon.
Garrison argued that his beliefs originated around scientific facts.
“I could make the religious case, because it think it is also a religious issue… But I think I can make a secular case for it just simply on the science and the biology.”
In response, Rosner countered that the issue is inseparably linked to religious doctrine and thus less credible than fact.
“The problem is that the so-called ‘fight against abortion’ is so inextricably tied to the religious right in this country that to separate them is really just impossible,” she said.
Garrison also drew parallels between the political debates over slavery and those over abortion. He argued that Democrats supported slavery and opposed civil rights and that they are once again on the side of opposing human rights with their support of abortions.
“Obama is the most vicious… or extreme pro-abortion politician,” Garrision argued.
He explained that while he wishes Mitt Romney was more pro-life, he supports Romney’s generally anti-abortion views.
At times, the two groups interacted with the public in ways other than just conversing; the pro-choice advocates solicited responses from passing cars with a sign that read, “Honk for choice.” In another instance, Garrison and a passer-by both pumped their fists in the air to each other in agreement over the issue.
At one point, a man driving a pick-up truck shouted “Pro-life!” to which Garrison responded, “Oop, another human. Oop, not another person of the devil. Oop, not another deviant.”
Garrison also joked, in regards to Rosner’s sign, “Wouldn’t that hurt? That girl must be kinky or something.”