Sunday, Feb. 11 students from Advocates for Life and Students for Life reinstalled their anti-abortion display, which had previously been vandalized Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. on the College of William and Mary’s Sunken Garden. Daniel Sheaffer ’19 has since been charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property. A concurrent counterdemonstration display was planned and installed by the College’s chapter of VOX: Planned Parenthood Generation Action at 9 p.m., also on the Sunken Garden.
President of Advocates for Life Katherine Beck J.D. ’19 said that the reinstallation of the display served two purposes in that her organization would continue to spread its message and serve as a platform for free speech.
“When we learned that the display was torn down at 12:40 a.m. and nobody saw what we were trying to communicate, remembering the lives lost since Roe versus Wade, first and foremost we wanted to still get our message across,” Beck said.
“When we learned that the display was torn down at 12:40 a.m. and nobody saw what we were trying to communicate, remembering the lives lost since Roe versus Wade, first and foremost we wanted to still get our message across,” Beck said. “Secondly, for free speech, we also are seen as a symbol of free speech of that. We won’t be silenced advocating for the voiceless and that we really will come back if somebody tried to tear it down and that we’ll come back and continue to be respectful but continue to stand for our beliefs.”
The reinstalled display used eight signs, one of which read, “We will not be silenced being a voice for the voiceless,” and another which stated, “A woman deserves autonomy over her own body from the day she exists.”
According to Beck and other members of her organization, while the original Jan. 21 display had 3,000 popsicle sticks, the new display used 5,000 white flags, each flag representing the 12,000 lives lost to abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
“We also wanted to come back with something that would show that to make more of a statement and to show that we really are here to advocate for the unborn and we really do want to start a conversation,” Beck said. “We thought that the flags would really symbolize and make that statement. … The white [of the flags] represents the innocence of the unborn children.”
Beck noted that after the vandalism incident, she had more undergraduates, law school students and members of the community offer their support and indicate their desire to help Beck’s organization. She viewed the incident as “a blessing in disguise.”
“It’s been really encouraging both just having support that, even people that disagree, want to enter into a dialogue and that the [vandal] doesn’t speak for everybody and also it’s been encouraging just to be able to have so many other students come and support us,” Beck said. “It really has opened a conversation.”
Vice President of Advocates for Life Matthew Revis J.D. ’19 said he believes that the reinstallation of the display provided another chance to convey the group’s message and to do so in a different light.
“I think this is a great opportunity for people that either support or oppose our message to understand that the pro-life movement isn’t just about men in D.C. or men in government trying to promote their own views, but is the idea of enabling life from its early stages to its final breaths and projecting in a way that we all are the beneficiaries of mothers that chose to have a child,” Revis said. “If we can enable other mothers of future generations to do the same and support them not just in pregnancy, but in birth and in childhood … that’s an important thing we can all grow from and become better as a country, as a community, and as individuals as well.”
Patrick Britti ’21, a member of Students for Life, an undergraduate student organization, noted that though the original display was vandalized, his organization was keen on maintaining “a rational discourse about it without letting emotions override any ability to have a true conversation.”
“That’s the whole point of this — to have a conversation,” Britti said. “It’s not to anger or make anyone angry or anyone sad … I think it’s good that a lot of the organizations like VOX have actively denounced the destruction of the first one and have organized true counter-protests.”
Because the organization’s previous display was vandalized, the College offered to provide security to prevent another incident from occurring, according to Beck. She noted that the new display would be up until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13.
VOX Social Media Chair Melissa Hudson ’19 said she believes that because Advocates for Life went through the College to get its initial display approved, the Jan. 21 vandalism “was not the best response.”
“However, that being said, the vandalism and the response to the vandalism has at least opened up a dialogue on this campus that often goes undiscussed maybe about abortion and about showing up for people who’ve had abortions or for people who seek abortions and figuring out the best way to support those individuals,” Hudson said.
For Hudson, VOX’s main goal in engaging in a counter-demonstration was to illustrate that abortions are a common occurrence and individuals at the College have had them.
“Part of what people found really upsetting about [Advocates for Life’s] first demonstration was that there are people on this campus who’ve had abortions and that has had a really positive effect on their lives,” Hudson said. “By having this demonstration from this pro-life group, in the middle of our campus appears as though its design to be very shaming towards individuals who’ve had abortions. It was really important to us, being VOX, to show up and show that abortion is normal and people have them and we know people who’ve had them and we are people who’ve had them and we’re not going to let these individuals in our communities who we care about be shamed for the choices that they’ve made.”
According to Hudson, VOX decided to incorporate 186 popsicle sticks for the estimated number of people who die from unsafe abortions worldwide every day as a response to the initial demonstration done by Advocates for Life and Students for Life. VOX’s demonstration also includes signs with messages like “ProChoice is ProLife” and “Criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop abortions. It stops safe abortions.”
VOX Vice President Jessica Seidenberg ’19 said she believes the anti-abortion display “demonstrates a misunderstanding of human needs as well as a misunderstanding of what it means to give someone autonomy over themselves.”
“I think the fact that it was put on by a group of law students on a primarily undergraduate campus is intrusive,” Seidenberg said. “I think the initial demonstration was intentionally low key so that most people wouldn’t think that it was licensed so that they could create a bigger deal out of it than it initially was.”
A member of Young Democratic Socialists of America Samuel Nussbaum ’21 believed that VOX’s counterdemonstration shows students who have had abortions that they can find support in the College community.
“The significance of [the counterdemonstration] is showing that you can’t necessarily prop up something like [the Advocates for Life display] that can promote harmful ideologies without a reaction from the broader community and the broader other people there,” Nussbaum said.
“The significance of [the counterdemonstration] is showing that you can’t necessarily prop up something like [the Advocates for Life display] that can promote harmful ideologies without a reaction from the broader community and the broader other people there,” Nussbaum said. “So basically, it’s an illustration that, if you put some more sexist, ‘pro-life’ ideology, you’ll get a response to ensure that the people who have had abortions who do want access to abortion, access to reproductive care for women, we are there for you. There are people at William and Mary there for you. It’s not just them.”