Protests, while distressing, emphasize supportive, kind collegiate student body

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COURTESY PHOTO / NIA KITCHIN

This past Wednesday and Thursday, an extremist “prenatal justice” group called the Center for Bioethical Reform held a demonstration on the College of William and Mary’s campus. This article will discuss details of what some of their signs depicted and said. Stationed between Earl Gregg Swem Library and Andrews Hall, the presence of the Center for Bioethical Reform’s display was extremely disruptive to students, especially in the last few weeks before summer break when students should be focusing on preparing for finals and wrapping things. Students walking to Swem or any of the surrounding academic buildings were forced to cross paths with the group’s crude, graphic and incorrect displays.

During the two days the Center for Bioethical Reform occupied our space, I was incredibly angry. Not only were they interrupting the beautiful and sunny spring weather, but I felt as if my campus, this place where I feel so at home, was being tarnished. I hated that they were set up right next to the Swem benches, my favorite place to escape daily stresses and catch a few rays between classes, and I hated even more that they were making some of my fellow students so uncomfortable that they had to avoid the area entirely in fear of reliving past trauma with the triggering signage.

The Center for Bioethical Reform protest consisted of multiple four-by-eight-foot boards featuring doctored photos of “aborted fetuses,” stock photos and inaccurate facts about abortion. These boards claimed that abortion was comparable to the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust. They called abortion doctors “Nazis” and compared them to “death camp exterminators,” while also contrasting abortion to the Black Lives Matter movement. They made very triggering arguments about abortions as a result of rape and had many obviously fake images of “aborted fetuses” side-by-side with living babies. Their display was not a pretty sight, but I’ve decided not to focus on that.

Instead, I want to highlight how proud I am of the College community and the way that we responded to these unwanted visitors on our campus. Although the College could not legally prevent the group from coming here, we made sure that they knew they were not welcomed here. Students from all corners of campus came together to stand up to the protesters and lift up our student body, no matter how their opinions aligned in terms of abortion. Even our campus’ pro-life group Tribe for Life publicly denounced the group and made it clear that no matter what, fear and shame had no place at the College. This message was evident in the counter-protest that VOX: Planned Parenthood Generation Action put together. It was incredible what they were able to accomplish on such short notice. Across from the display, they created a safe space with music, brightly-colored signs to peacefully protest with, free snacks, even a bunny at one point and most importantly smiles, hugs and unconditional support.

Additionally, the Dean of Students Office and the Wellness Center set up booths next to the Center for Bioethical Reform display, encouraging students to come and talk and escorting them to class upon request. The dichotomy between the two areas of protest was clear: love overflowed from our community and felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the hateful displays from the Center of Bioethical Reform.

I was proud to see messages of support for survivors of sexual assault and comforting words to those who have received abortions written on the Center’s “What do you think?” whiteboard. There were also many students interacting with the protesters and asking informed, thoughtful questions. Although I expected nothing less from our intelligent student body, it was incredibly impressive to see students standing up to these bullies, grilling them on their bogus claims and standing up for what they believed in. This is the kind of thought-provoking action that will end up making change, not just parading false information and triggering images around on countless college campuses, as the Center for Bioethical Reform does routinely. This week, students at the College stood up to a group that was trying to knock us down, and it marked yet another reason why I am so proud to be part of this community.

Email Lauren Cohen at

lhcohen01@email.wm.edu.