Students protest Whitworth Students for Life display

by Karlin Andersen|Editor-in-Chief

The Whitworth Students for Life club gave a display on how a voter’s stance on abortion should factor into their political affiliation and their vote for president in Lied Square today. Behind the club a large blue banner hung on the stairs reading “We Stand with Planned Parenthood” with students in matching t-shirts protesting the pro-life club’s display.

Protesters wore shirts referencing the unsafe methods women used to use undergo during abortions. Group members said the shirts, and the #neveragain, signify the group’s desire to support Planned Parenthood creating an environment for women to safely get abortions. “Abortions have been around for as long as we know,” senior Amy Ferris said. “Planned Parenthood is the first time it has been around safely and we don’t want to lose that option.”

“We thought we would offer an opposite side to the issue,” said a member of the pro-choice protest senior Camina Hirota. Throughout the protest Hirota stood on the stairs above the banner speaking with other students about the protest. “We are doing this very peacefully and lovingly.”

Despite a security guard being in Lied Square during the scheduled display time, the protest was peaceful and silent except when students engaged the protesters to ask questions.

Protesters said they wanted to be a clear response to the pro-life club and give a voice to the other side of the conversation they feel has been ignored.

“There are students from Whitworth that have gone to Planned Parenthood and have had abortions – and they shouldn’t feel victimized,” senior Kaley Alaness said.

Similar to an event last year, the Whitworth Students for Life club brought in a series of banners that discussed the major political parties’ stances on abortion titled “Cycle of Corruption.” Members of the club and the Students for Life regional coordinator said they wanted students to be informed voters and see the connection between taxpayer dollars and Planned Parenthood.

A Whitworth Students for Life club member explains the display to students.

“[The] abortion industry is only significantly active in [the] Democratic party,” the Students for Life regional coordinator Katie Lodjic said. Lodjic said all the information on the banners is from the Planned Parenthood 2014-15 annual report.

The banners and cards handed out to students by the club addressed on the cycle of taxpayers funding Planned Parenthood which then donates to Democrats who support pro-abortion legislation, according to the club. However, the rhetoric among students strayed from politics and focused on the pro-life or pro-choice decision.

“[It’s important to] not be afraid to talk about it – I know I was – it can be very emotional,” Whitworth Students for Life club president Heidi Thom said. “[And] have discussions logically and respectively.”

Thom said the club’s display was meant to inform students where the political parties stand and continue the dialogue on campus.

Lodjic said that especially with the election so close it is important for students to factor reproductive rights into their political decisions. She said the issues needs conversation and education, not just laws.

“It’s more making [abortions] unthinkable, than illegal,” Lodjic said.

Student reaction:

Students outside of the two groups expressed their appreciation for both groups coming together to discuss the issue in a peaceful setting.

Senior Tori Wehrle said she knew the pro-life club’s event was pre-planned, but believes it was poor timing after James Silberman’s opinions piece on Planned Parenthood was published two weeks ago.

James Silberman, VP of the Students for Life club, speaks with protesters holding signs that read “Pro-woman Pro-child Pro-choice;” another sign lists services Planned Parenthood provides aside from abortions. Peter Houston-Hencken: Photographer

Wehrle believes there would not have been such a negative reaction to the Students for Life’s display had the article not been published. She said she now feels there is a negative stigma attached to the group and if a student talks to the group others may think, “Oh, you went to talk to the pro-life people?”

Hirota said the group would have protested the event even if Silberman’s piece had not been published.

“I think we probably would have come, but not had had such a presence,” Hirota said. “The article pushed us together as a community.”

Hirota said about 12 people gathered together to organize the protest after Thom announced the banner display in last week’s ASWU meeting. An initial group text message between interested students grew to about 70 group members by Tuesday afternoon.

The group had sign up sheets during the protest for a feminist, pro-choice club they want to start on campus. Hirota said they have about 50 people interested in joining.

“We know a lot of people were hurt by the most recent article that was published and we are here in solidarity,” Hirota said. “Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion.”

The group echoed the message of solidarity and giving a voice to the unheard side throughout the protest, but also pressed the need for discussion.

Heidi Thom, Whitworth Students for Life club president, and a protester engage in conversation. Peter Houston-Hencken: Photographer

Cross group dialogue:

“We’re not attacking the opposite side – we want room for discussion,” senior Krystiana Morales said. “We don’t want silence.”

The conversation between the two groups began with Silberman, the Whitworth Students for Life vice president, talking with a group of protesters. Thom also spoke with some of the protesters and both sides said the discussion was beneficial and they identified issues the groups could work together on.

Thom said she agreed with the protesters on issues such as health care, assistance and scholarships for pregnant women on college campuses and felt her conversations were productive. She said she signed up for their “feminist club.”

One of the protesters, junior Ryan Karpenko, said he had different experiences talking to each member of the pro-life club with some conversations being more debate-oriented than others, but he saw the discussions as overall positive.

“I’m glad [Silberman] came over and initiated [the conversation],” Karpenko said. “I haven’t seen bad blood today.”