Boldfaced signs reading “Genocide Awareness Project” and “Warning Genocide Photos Ahead,” lined the entrances to Lowry Mall on Monday.
The signs were placed to warn passersby of the graphic photo display in the center of the pedestrian thoroughfare. The images, sponsored by The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, are a part of its Genocide Awareness Project, which aims to use graphic images to deter woman from getting abortions.
Mizzou Students for Life reserved the space on Lowry Mall to allow the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to bring its display to campus.
The CBR’s posters placed images of aborted fetuses next to images of acts of genocide including the Holocaust, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the Rwandan genocide. Other posters compared abortion to child abuse, lynching and animal testing.
“One of the ways we teach (about abortion) is with this Genocide Awareness Project because, sadly, human history, and the last century, has unlimited examples to cite,” CBR Regional Coordinator Bill Calvin said. “In many cases, the powerful forces, whoever they are, deny the personhood of whatever group they want to take something from.”
Calvin said he believes the logic Nazis used to persecute Jewish people is the same logic people use today to justify abortions. He said Nazis declared Jewish people to be parasites, and he said students he spoke to at the display similarly called unborn fetuses parasites to justify abortions.
Some students expressed their concerns about the graphic nature of the photographs.
“There are 30,000-plus students on this campus,” graduate student Jessica Berry said. “You have no idea who’s affected by this. To put this on blast and have everyone see that without any kind of warning is (not) thoughtful.”
Calvin said he encountered both students who were supportive of and students who were against the displays. He said that, while it may upset some people, the intent is to save the lives of the fetuses.
Mizzou Students for Life president Reagan Nielsen said she founded the organization last March. The group brought the project to campus last year as well.
“This display really brings conversation on the campus about abortion,” Nielsen said. “Often times, people are hush-hush about it. They don’t want to talk about it. This creates a conversation . . . hopefully these images strike home and cause people to think about abortion.”
Student organizations requesting the use of university facilities must be recognized by Student Life and be in good standing as per the Organization Resource Group website, according to the Administrative Services website.
John Murray, Assistant Director of Business Services, and Mary Maxwell, Administrative Assistant of Business Services, then review the requests.
“We don't really concern ourselves in content as far as requests,” Murray said in an email. “As long as the request is in compliance with policy, we generally approve it.”
Feminist Student Union members quickly organized the morning of the display and peacefully protested the display with Planned Parenthood signs, while collecting signatures and emails of students who support relocating the event to Speakers Circle in the future.
“I find it incredibly offensive to compare a woman’s choice about her health and her body to mass genocide and evil going on in the world,” FSU President Nicole Silvestri. “I just think it’s completely absurd and an unfair comparison.”
Several students wore clothes to emulate Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock collective and show their disapproval of the display.
“Pussy Riot is a punk collective of women in Russia who assemble spontaneously when problematic situations arise, and they dress in bright colors and they wear balaclavas to mask their faces and cover their identities,” junior Kat Seal said. “They do this to have their presence and their voices heard in situations when they feel that women as a whole are being oppressed.”
Calvin said the intent of the display was not to change laws but to change the minds of individuals.
“We don’t have a political agenda,” he said. “We’re not trying to elect a candidate in Missouri or change the laws in Missouri. We want to make individual people recognize what we believe, that abortion is unthinkable. It’s so horrible, if you really understand it.”
Some students were upset with the comparison of abortion to the Holocaust because the demonstration fell on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I don’t see how abortion and genocide go hand in hand,” Berry said. “I don’t see how they thought this was okay to do this on national Holocaust Remembrance Day. This was supposed to be a day about them.”
However, Nielsen said it was unplanned for the day to coincide with the presentation — it was just the date that worked best.
Mizzou Hillel, the organization for Jewish students, sent an email offering support to students offended by the exhibit.
“We understand that this exhibit has the ability to evoke painful memories for students and faculty on campus,” the email said. “Hillel’s doors are always open, and we are here for support should anyone wish to discuss the issue.”