An anti-abortion demonstration in Red Square on Oct. 6 drew a large group of students who countered the demonstration with their own signs and chants. The protest, organized by Christian, anti-abortion nonprofit Tiny Heartbeat Ministries, began around 12:30 p.m. in front of the Humanities Building in Red Square. There were about a dozen anti-abortion protesters. They carried graphic signs claiming to show aborted fetuses at various stages in development and quickly drew a crowd.
The event remained mostly peaceful; however, one bystander threw an anti-abortion sign into Fisher Fountain. Another broke a separate anti-abortion sign with their foot, which led to University Police being called.
Andrew Kerin, executive director of Tiny Heartbeat Ministries, was helping direct the anti-abortion protesters.
“We’re out here because we believe abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being by decapitation, disembowelment and dismemberment,” Kerin said.
Some students in the crowd wondered whether Tiny Heartbeat Ministries were allowed to protest on campus as they were. According to Club Activities Coordinator Jenn Cook, the protest was permitted.
“For free speech and assembly, folks from off campus can come to campus as long as they are mobile, as they are, where their signs can move, and they’re not taking up physical space they don't need a reservation,” Cook said. “Anybody’s allowed to [protest] under those restrictions.”
A number of students, disturbed by the content on the signs held by the anti-abortion protesters, made signs and banners of their own. With signs reading out “Abortion is poggers,” “Keep Abortion FREE, SAFE, and LEGAL. MY BODY! MY CHOICE!,” “This is not property of the government” with a depiction of a female figure, and other abortion rights messages, the students began a spontaneous counter-protest.
The students used their signs and even clothes in one case to block the anti-abortion signs.
“We came out in Red Square to see some pretty graphic images of ‘aborted fetuses,’ and I asked a couple people if they would like to go make posters and say what we felt,” said Emma Ottewell, who was among the counter-protesters.
Several representatives from Turning Point USA, a far-right organization that promotes conservative values among college students, were also in Red Square with pro-gun signs, but Chapter President Caroline Smitt and Vice President Neal Temelso claimed no affiliation with Tiny Heartbeat Ministries’ demonstration.
The protest attracted an audience of around 60 people at its peak, with more coming and leaving as classes took place. Among them was Mia Messersmith, who saw the protest taking place and stayed in support of the counter-protesters.
“I’m just hoping that those engaging with these people are trying to educate and not hate, because that's the only way we can get through to them,” Messersmith said in regard to the anti-abortion protesters, “hearing them out and also trying to educate without bashing them.”
David Samaniego, who was also among the crowd, said that protests like the one which took place Wednesday are a good example of the campus attitude towards discussing tough issues.
“This kind of stuff happens every year,” Samaniego said. “On the one hand, it's very unfortunate that we have such an inflammatory group here with such gruesome signs, but on the other hand it is very cool that we have other people that have taken the time to make impromptu signs and counter.”
“It’s good there are people who are willing to step up,” Samaniego added.
The anti-abortion protesters began to pack up and leave campus around 2:37 p.m., moving past Viking Union and loading into cars. The counter-protesters followed to the edge of campus chanting “my body, my choice,” and dispersed once they had driven off.
Red Square is frequently visited by outsiders hoping to provoke and draw attention from Western’s mostly left-leaning student body. On Sept. 27, a preacher was met with jeers and several thrown water bottles after he started yelling far-right religious proclamations at the passing crowd of students. On Oct. 4, Western posted an article detailing their policy on public assembly and free speech.
“Red Square is a Limited Public Forum, which means it is characterized as a space that can be used for freedom of expression and general assembly and is subject to time, place and manner [restrictions],” the article says.
The article goes on to remind students that free speech activities may be distressing, and they should be prepared to walk away if they find the speaker’s topic triggering.
On Saturday, Oct. 2, nearly a thousand people assembled outside Bellingham City Hall to rally for abortion rights. The event was organized by local activist groups in response to the recent abortion ban in Texas that prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and allows almost any private citizen to sue abortion providers.
Reporting contributed by Luisa Loi
Ryan Scott is a third-year Visual Journalism major and city life reporter for The Western Front. When not reporting, Ryan enjoys photography, listening to music, driving, and cooking if he can find the time. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.