TFL display sparks abortion debate on Esplanade


First Year Alyssa Jones speaking with Jeremy Gorr Photo credit: Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

On Monday and Tuesday, Tigers for Life (TFL) partnered with Justice for All (JFA), partnered with Justice for All (JFA) to create a display on Coates Esplanade about abortion. Various signs with pro-life messages were displayed on the Esplanade, along with a booth where students could vote on whether abortion should be legal, and a “free speech board”, which gave passers-by the opportunity to write their opinions.

The exhibit was preceded by a TFL- and JFA-sponsored seminar in the Woodlawn room on Sunday Aug. 25, titled “Taking Abortion from Debate to Dialogue.” According to promotional materials distributed by TFL, the seminar’s purpose was to help students “learn how to start a productive conversation with a pro-choice advocate and how to respond to common pro-choice arguments.”

JFA is a national pro-life organization that aims to create dialogues about abortion in places such as college campuses. Jeremy Gorr, training specialist at JFA, explained the organization’s goals for outreach events.

“Each of JFA’s exhibits function as a lightning rod, a lighthouse and a library,” Gorr said. “Each one intrigues people so that they become interested in discussing the uncomfortable topic of abortion. Each functions as a lighthouse, bringing to the public eye the visual facts about the unborn and abortion, facts that many students have never confronted. Each functions as a common library, providing something that both pro-choice and pro-life advocates can reference in clarifying their own views and understanding others’ views.”

Although JFA conducts trainings for groups that work outside of college campuses, Gorr sees universities as ideal locations for facilitating discussions.

“[Campuses are] a great place for [student groups] to be having conversations like this because there’s so many people walking by during an average outreach that you’re not going to see most other places in society,” Gorr said. “If you stand outside on a street corner, maybe you’ll get 10 people walking by every half hour or so, you’re not gonna get hundreds of people walking by each hour.”

According to sophomore and TFL president Angelique Lopez, this demonstration will be one of many events TFL will host this year, with the purpose of increasing dialogue on abortion and similar topics on campus.

“Our main goal is not to criminalize abortion, but mostly to first change the culture into making abortion unthinkable, because of course it’s a hard decision to make because of all of the circumstances people go through, and no one really wants to have an abortion,” Lopez said. “We want to encourage dialogue, and this year we’re trying to fundraise and do more volunteering for mothers in need and stuff like that. Right now, this event is just to create dialogue, but our mission as a club, of course, is to change hearts and minds.”

Sophomore Victoria Henretty, who identifies as pro-choice, expressed concerns about the personal nature and purpose of the demonstration.

“It looked like [TFL] were just trying to make people mad and not even educate,” Henretty said. “I remember them doing events like this last year, and it’s never productive. It just seems to upset people. I know [that] for me recently, the topic of abortion is even more sensitive because with endometriosis I can’t get pregnant — it would be very dangerous for me right now. It just doesn’t seem like a very considerate display on campus for everyone.”

Senior Francisco Macías felt that space provided for students to express their opinions is valuable.

“I would say that I fall in line with [the belief] that every person has the right to make their own rational choice about themselves, but I think this [event] is actually healthy, even though a lot of people might be against a side,” Macías said. “It actually forces people to respect the opposite side because you can’t just trample over all of these signs. And also these [JFA] men are doing a very good job of being respectful, so I don’t mind it.”

However, first-year Maya Long was frustrated by her attempt to have a conversation around abortion during the event on Monday.

“I approached [the topic] as the question they were asking, which is ‘Should abortion be legal?’ but when I tried to engage in speaking about it, they were more talking about the morality [of abortion] rather than the question that they were posing,” Long said. “I think that was frustrating, because I just spent an hour just talking about [abortion], and they kept coming back to like, ‘Well, say that I went over and murdered my friend. Like, that’s bad, right?’ … From the two people that I spoke to, it felt more like, ‘Let me tell you why you’re wrong, and I’m right,’ as opposed to like, ‘Let’s hear both sides.’ ”

Overall, Gorr measures the event as a success because of the amount of conversations that JFA and TFL generated over the two days the display was on the Esplanade.

“The [purpose] of the event itself is to have a lot of conversations. If it [creates] a lot of conversations with people, that’s a success,” Gorr said. “It seems like we’ve been able to do that today.”

with additional reporting by Kara Killinger, Pulse editor