Several hundred students engaged in an impromptu abortion-rights rally Thursday when three anti-abortion organizations came to Foggy Bottom as part of a nationwide tour.
Nearly 150 GW abortion-rights activists gathered on H Street throughout the afternoon to counter-protest several dozen anti-abortion activists standing outside Kogan Plaza. About 10 University Police officers were monitoring the scene during the conflict, though UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said no one was written up or arrested. Stafford added that Metropolitan Police officers arrived at the scene mid-afternoon.
The anti-abortion activists, including several children, stopped at GW as part of the “Face the Truth” tour of Virginia, D.C. and Maryland areas that began last Monday in Richmond, Va. Activists traveled from as far away as Wisconsin, Arkansas and Florida to participate in the week-long tour.
GW counter-protesters used signs, chants and megaphones to confront the visiting protesters, who also had megaphones. The anti-abortion activists exhibited several large, graphic images of aborted fetuses – some bigger than the children holding them – and read scriptures from the Bible.
“It doesn’t matter if abortion is so-called legal in the United States today. It is a sin,” Jim Deferio, a member of the Philadelphia-based group Repent America, yelled into a megaphone.
Throughout the afternoon, the students in front of Crawford Hall shared heated exchanges with the anti-abortion activists on the opposite side of the street.
“Out of my vagina, out of my campus,” yelled sophomore Jackie Burns, who said she was there “protecting women’s rights.”
At one point anti-abortion activists asked the crowd to have a discussion on their side of the street, to which senior and Student Association President Lamar Thorpe replied, “We don’t want a discussion, we’re pro-choice.”
Representatives of Colonials for Life, an anti-abortion student organization at GW, arrived at approximately 2 p.m. saying they had no prior knowledge of the demonstration and that the actions of the anti-abortion groups were detrimental to their cause.
“The emotions they incite by this kind of event leads people to dismiss the rational arguments behind the pro-life movement,” said senior John McCormack, a Colonials for Life executive board member. “These pictures are horrifying. The shock they create does more harm than good.”
Other student organizations at the event included Voices for Choices, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the GW Democrats. The student counter-protest lasted nearly five hours.
“People will be out here as long as these people are on campus,” said Megan Foster, a sophomore and member of FMLA. “I don’t see us ever leaving so long as these people are still here.”
Erika Briedis, a student at the Faithful Soldier School of Evangelism in Wisconsin, said she was disturbed by students’ screaming.
The Faithful Soldier School is a one-semester program comprised of 10 to 15 students who are taught how to discuss and debate Christian issues.
Michael Marcavage, the assistant to the director at Life and Liberties Ministries, the group that organized the protest, said he was happy to see the GW community take interest in the cause.
“This is a celebration by GW students in regards to abortion,” said Marcavage, looking at the counter-protest. “We’re thankful that people have gathered so we have an opportunity to engage in discussion.”
Several GW students who spoke with The Hatchet Thursday raised concerns about the young children participating in the protest, many of whom carried posters and spoke on the megaphones.
“I think it’s bad that they have children (here),” said sophomore Puja Chokshi. “I was talking to the boy, and I was thinking, you know, ‘Why isn’t he in school?'”
Christina Grace, who stood with five of her children – the youngest a newborn and the oldest age 9 – said the children are educated and that the demonstration is equivalent to a civics class.
Twelve-year-old Gabriel Greene, son of protest organizer Denny Greene, stood holding an image of an aborted fetus. “(Counter-protesters) don’t make me sad, it’s sad that they’re like that, that they are people who want to kill babies,” Greene said.
In a phone interview with The Hatchet, Denny Greene, who is director of the Life and Liberties Ministry, said he chose to bring the tour to GW because of access to the students from public streets. He said the student abortion-rights demonstrators were an unusual phenomenon.
“There are rarely counter-protesters, and if there are, there are only several dozen,” said Greene, who was unable to attend the event because of car trouble. “We don’t come to protest and counter-protest, we come to preach the gospel and tell the truth.”
Suzanne LaChapelle-Gustafson, from Minnesota, was taking a tour of campus with her daughter during the demonstration and said she had expected to see this in D.C.
“I was a little disturbed when I first saw the pictures,” LaChapelle-Gustafson said. “And then I looked around and saw that both sides were represented and I said ‘This is okay. This is America.'”
-Brandon Butler, Jessica Calefati, Kaitlyn Jahrling and Benjamin Solomon contributed to this report.