Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 30, 2022

Voice for Life demonstration met with protests

By ALEXANDRA BALLATO | October 24, 2013

Voice for Life (VFL), a Hopkins undergraduate pro-life advocacy organization, sparked campus-wide controversy on Tuesday and Wednesday with a demonstration on the north side of the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Library that included a mock graveyard.

The array of white crosses wedged between the Freshmen and Keyser Quads served as part of VFL’s “Respect Life Week,” the theme for which was “Educate, Inspire, Illuminate and Heal.”

“As described on our flyers, we hope to educate on the issues of life, including abortion, to illuminate and to heal, ultimately,” sophomore Andrew Guernsey, VFL’s president, said.

The club, which has 20 active student members, hosted four events in total over the course of the week to emphasize each element of the Respect Life Week theme.

On Tuesday morning, VFL set up “The Cemetery of the Innocents” adjacent to the Freshmen Quad. Made up of 139 white crosses, the exhibit was meant to represent the number of fetuses aborted hourly in the United States and to embody the first pillar of Respect Life Week’s theme: “Educate.”

The crosses were taken down on Tuesday night and set up again on Wednesday morning due to concerns about vandalism and the strain that leaving the crosses up would place upon Campus Safety & Security, which would have had to monitor the area through the night.

“This display represents the number of abortions that occur every hour,” Guernsey said. “It is a problem that we believe ought to be addressed and discussed, especially on college campuses. We have lots of future medical doctors and nurses [attending Hopkins].”

Several on-campus organizations said VFL’s demonstration was offensive and crossed a red line. “Our concern lies in the fact that the cemetery takes place in a high traffic, public area on campus. The graveyard is past uncomfortable; it is a potential trauma trigger,” Cathy Lee and Mana Jabbour, co-directors of the Sexual Assault Response Unit (SARU), wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

“An event that could trigger a flashback, an anxiety attack or any psychological stress is a concern for the safety of the students. To our knowledge, students in Voice for Life are not trained in crisis intervention and would thus not be equipped to appropriately handle psychologically concerning reactions,” Lee and Jabbour wrote.

Other groups on campus concurred with SARU and offered a response to the exhibit.

The Hopkins Feminists and the Hopkins College Democrats staged a peaceful protest at the top of the Beach while the display was up in order to counteract the demonstration and advocate for a woman’s right to choose. The groups offered hot chocolate to passersby in an effort to foster an environment of open discussion, while some students held signs strongly proclaiming support for women’s reproductive rights.

SARU’s co-directors stressed the importance of spreading awareness about such sensitive events. The group disapproves of the single mention of “The Cemetery of the Innocents” in the Today’s Announcements listings and believes it was not nearly enough of a warning to the student body.

“The best way to minimize the shock is by spreading awareness of the occurrence of this event and the resources available to students who may need help, which include the Counseling Center, the SafeLine, TurnAround and the SARU hotline,” Lee and Jabbour wrote.

Guernsey is well aware of the controversy surrounding VFL and Respect Life Week.

“We’re here to, as we said, to promote awareness, and we have resources for healing for women who have had abortions,” Guernsey said. “We are not here to judge those who may have made that choice in very difficult circumstances as persons, but we’re here to promote awareness about how abortion hurts not only them, but, well, every cross here represents a story of how the needs of a woman have not been met in society.”

Still, Guernsey believes that the controversy that has taken shape on campus in the face of VFL’s activities may actually be helping the organization achieve its goals.

“I think [controversy on campus] has helped spread awareness,” Guernsey said. “I’ve had many, many, many discussions over the two days we’ve been doing this, and I think it’s been good for the campus to think about the issue more critically. And it never hurts to hear both sides of an argument. I think we’ve seen a lot of good and healthy discussion.”

Other students voiced concerns about VFL’s use of crosses and the absence of any other religion’s symbolism.

“We chose to represent the number of abortions every hour using crosses because it has a direct connection with death and is universally recognized to be such,” Guernsey said.

On Tuesday night, VFL held a candlelit vigil in order to “Illuminate” the issue of abortion. The event, which was open to the public, drew a crowd of approximately 30 students, community members, pro-life activists and local faith leaders.

Notable guests in attendance were Fr. John Paul Walker, Chaplain of the Hopkins Catholic Community; Brendan O’Morchoe, National Director of Field Operations for Students for Life of America; Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Founder and Director of Project Genesis, an orthodox Jewish outreach organization and Missy Smith, Washington, D.C. State Team Leader for Operation Outcry, an anti-abortion advocacy group.

“We were able to reflect together on the issues at hand and to, we think, also work on building our community and healing our community from the wounds of abortion,” Guernsey said.

The attendees prayed, reflected and listened to a number of hymns and musical performances. However, a violin performance of the theme from “Schindler’s List” sparked further outcry from Hopkins students.

“The parallel between a woman’s right to choose and the mass slaughtering of innocent Jews during the Holocaust is a little concerning,” sophomore Ariel Zahler, a Hillel Engagement Intern, said.

In order to highlight the third theme, “Motivate,” Creative Professional and Chief Creative Officer of the anti-abortion Radiance Foundation Ryan Bomberger spoke to a crowd of Hopkins community members on Wednesday night. His multimedia presentation was called “The Social Injustice of Abortion.”

Bomberger, creator of the website TooManyAborted.com, has spearheaded an advertisement campaign to bring attention to what he argues are the negative effects that abortion has had on the black community and what he says are examples of racism in the administration of pregnancy clinics such as Planned Parenthood.

Today, VFL will hold its final event to “Heal” with Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries and the Respect Life Club at the University of Baltimore. The discussion panel, entitled “Silent No More,” will consist of three women speaking about the negative impact that their abortions had on their physical, spiritual and emotional health.

VFL says it will continue to be a presence on campus beyond Respect Life Week.

“We also want to work and do so by volunteering at local pregnancy centers as well as through sidewalk counseling to offer resources to women who are in crisis pregnancies,” Guernsey said. “We try to get those resources available so the woman doesn’t feel like she has to choose between her baby and whether she can have her next meal. It’s a false choice as we see it.”

Despite VFL’s drive to establish itself on campus as a constructive, educational group, its actions during Respect Life Week have reignited concerns about VFL’s presence on campus.

Last spring, the SGA Senate voted to reject the group’s application as an official on-campus undergraduate organization on the basis that its bylaws were inconsistent with the University’s conduct policies. VFL appealed the Senate’s decision to the SGA Judiciary, which ultimately voted unanimously to overturn the Senate and grant approval to VFL. The ordeal attracted national media attention and prompted strong sentiments from students all across Homewood campus.

“SARU is in no way in favor of silencing the Voice For Life group. SARU fully supports the diversity of opinions on campus, but the execution of such must be done in an appropriate manner,” Lee and Jabbour wrote. “We support conversations, forums and debates on the topic of abortion; we do not support the harassment of men and women on campus.”

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