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On-Campus Anti-Abortion Demonstration Stirs Controversy

By Maceo Foster, Christian Hince, Abby Lorch & Samantha Simmons | April 24, 2023

**NOTE: Graphic images, regarding blood, body parts of a fetus, anti-abortion sentiment etc. may be visible in pictures included in this article. Please view at personal discretion.

UAlbany students hold signs in opposition to the pro-life demonstration.

Photo Credit: Abby Lorch / The ASP

Advocates from Created Equal and New York State Right to Life, both pro-life groups, gathered on the University at Albany podium last Wednesday, April 19, to share their perspective on anti-abortion.

The event began at 9 a.m., featuring a display of abortion-related imagery, with a television video compilation showing bloody third-trimester fetuses and graphic moments of the abortion process. Around a dozen representatives from both Created Equal and Right to Life were stationed in the area, approaching passerby students with pamphlets on the topic and initiating discourse.

Created Equal was founded by Mark Harrington in 2011 and is based out of Columbus, OH. The group visits college campuses across the nation, particularly in pro-choice-leaning states such as New York, to stimulate debate on abortion using provocative content.

“Every social reform movement that's been successful in outlawing injustice has used graphic images to make their point,” Harrington said at the event. “We're just doing what others have done, and it's proven to be effective.”

By 1 p.m. a crowd of around 100 protestors had developed, with many holding signs in disagreement with Created Equal’s message. Students like Deanna Greenblatt, a senior, were “disgusted” by their approach.

“Having to look at those images on your way to class and be stopped by some random person is uncalled for. They're disrupting our way of life,” Greenblatt said. “They had to move tours for prospective students out of the way so they didn't have to see this.”

An "Expression Wall" organized by UAlbany representatives for student's to share their feelings at the demonstration.

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica / The ASP

Adjunct sociology professor Renee Overdyke also took issue with the event and was arrested just before 2 p.m. after trying to unplug the television screen showing the graphic content.

Overdyke joined students, debating Created Equal representative Blaise Alleyne during the event. After resisting arrest, the professor was physically dragged away from the area by university police (UPD) while screaming, according to witnesses. Released on an appearance ticket shortly afterwards, Overdyke was charged with resisting arrest, disturbing lawful assembly, and second degree obstruction of government administration.

No other dissenters rose to the level of Overdyke, though. One anonymous student talked to a Created Equal representative about her experience getting an abortion.

“I would have been forced to raise a child I did not want. I would have been financially

dependent on the government,” the anonymous student said. “Now instead I get to continue to pursue my education, I get [the chance] to get a master’s, and I get to use my life the way that I choose to help other people.”

Also among the crowd was Diana Felts, the president of UAlbany’s Project SHAPE, who detested Created Equal’s approach for its shock value.

“As we can see, fear tactics don't work, and they haven't ever worked,” Felts said. “This isn't going to stop abortion; if anything, this is just going to make abortion more unsafe.”

Felts distributed safe sex kits to students protesting the event.

Matt Pothier, Associate Director for Campus Center Management at UAlbany, described the university's efforts to protect students' physical and emotional health during the demonstration.

“We've created a space for the individuals to do what they want to do,” Pothier said. “We've got an expression wall for students to express their opinions, feelings, and emotions. We've got CAPS available, and other peer wellness educators—even Project SHAPE is coming out to give out safe sex kits.”

Condoms were a major component of Project SHAPE's kits.

Photo Credit: Christian Hince / The ASP

Pothier also spoke of the university's obligation to facilitate free speech.

“Student affairs professionals, as well as some other professionals, are around to ensure students are aware that this is not a university-sponsored event,” Pothier said. “It is an outside group exercising their freedom of speech. As a state university, we are obligated by law to have a Designated Public Forum.”

A Designated Public Forum serves the purpose of “use by a Third Party to exercise their free speech rights.” The permit, which was approved beforehand, gave Created Equal from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to broadcast their views. Permission for a Designated Public Forum can be revoked however given conduct that violates the SUNY Rules for the Maintenance of Public Order, which includes “any situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers mental or physical health.”

Blaise Alleyne, a pro-life activist based in Toronto, debated numerous students on behalf of Created Equal. Despite being mocked by protestors, who stuffed condoms from Project SHAPE’s kits into the sides of his backpack, and made fun of his purple mohawk as he debated, Alleyne was happy with how discourse went.

Alleyne (middle-left) faces a crowd of dissenting students.

Photo Credit: Christian Hince / The ASP

“​​I had really productive conversations with people who were really upset at first that we were here, and when we take the time to stop and listen, and talk and have a conversation, I think we can talk past the differences and talk about human rights, talk about the abortion issue,” Alleyne said. “A lot of people are in difficult circumstances [when they] have personal experience with abortion, so it's a very emotional issue.”

Among those challenging Alleyne was Student Association Senator Dylan Klein, who spoke out against the group’s rhetoric. Klein also expressed frustration over the university's actions regarding recent free-speech controversies on campus. Wednesday's event came on the heels of an event hosted on April 4 by UAlbany's chapter of Turning Point USA which featured conservative speaker Ian Haworth. Discourse was sparked when Haworth was met by hundreds of student protestors, two of whom were arrested.

Since April 4, the university has released multiple statements stating a school obligation to protect free speech. One released on Tuesday discussed the role of public forums for discourse in cases such as the 1960s Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter following George Floyd’s death.

“I think it's interesting that they're allowing this sort of speech to rise, but when people want to protest UPD or homophobic speakers or transphobic speakers, it's immediately shut down by UPD,” Klein said. “I think it’s sort of just another example of why UPD needs to be dissolved on this campus.”

Klein (pink sweatshirt) pointing two middle fingers towards the pro-life demonstrators as other students look on.

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica / The ASP

Klein also criticized Created Equal representatives for their use of GoPro cameras to record students. To monetize their recordings of protestors on YouTube, Created Equal would need express written consent from all students caught on camera.

Klein spoke in support of both Wednesday’s crowd and activists associated with the Queer Joy Coalition.

“I think the Student Association needs to reevaluate a bit when it comes to their stances for political movements,” he said. “I think individual senators, the president, vice president, [and] other members of the association should exercise their right to stand with the people that elected them and speak up for LGBTQ rights, not just on this campus, but in this world as well. Same thing goes for abortion rights.”

More students hold signs in opposition to the pro-life demonstration.

Photo Credit: Abby Lorch / The ASP

Felts echoed Klein's sentiments. She explained that it's important for students to protect and stand up for one another.

“When you attack a subject like abortion, you're attacking everybody, and that is an intersectional conversation,” Felts said.

Klein mentioned a Supreme Court case which would decide if mifepristone, a drug used to end pregnancies of up to 10 weeks, would become restricted for commercial use. The case, which was heard Friday, left the drug unrestricted on a 7-2 decision. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Students continued to protest well into the afternoon, chanting “My body, my choice” and “F*** them kids!” A barricade on the far side of the podium was turned into an expression wall, complete with dozens of pro-choice post-it notes.

Despite the growing opposition to their presence, representatives from the pro-life groups insisted their intentions were good.

“It's not about protesting or creating any kinds of disturbances. We're just trying to stimulate civil dialogue, and that's what we're having,” Harrington said.

A closeup on one student's sign, reading "What about my life?"

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica / The ASP

Rowan Kehoe, a young pro-life advocate, spoke similarly on behalf of New York State Right to Life.

“We don't want people to feel judged. We just want them to know what abortion is doing to babies,” Kehoe said. “We just want to protect the lives of all women and all men, because we believe abortion is taking away human rights.”

Shanell West, a junior, challenged these statements and questioned the groups' true goal.

“This is definitely fear-mongering. They're spreading misinformation; they're showing graphic footage of dolls. It just does not make sense,” West said. “They are trying to stop abortion, but they're not adopting kids.”

West argued that Created Equal would better accomplish its mission by focusing on increasing access to reproductive health, especially for those in poverty. She also described a need for more sex education overall.

“It just doesn't make sense that more kids should be born into poverty so that more kids can go to school and more kids can get shot. This is very disturbing and I was not expecting to see this on my way to class,” West said.

The pro-life activists began wrapping up their demonstration just before 3 p.m., to the delight of protestors. Students and other dissenters chanted “pack it up” as the television screen was turned off 10-15 minutes later, with the crowd at the podium dispersing shortly thereafter.

The university has yet to make an official statement on what occurred Wednesday. Updates will be shared as announced.

More photos from the demonstration.

Photo Credit: Danielle Modica / The ASP


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