Members of the GW’s Young America’s Foundation gathered Tuesday morning to line the lawn of the mid-campus quad with small, white crosses, meant to symbolize potential lives lost to abortion. This year, the pro-choice group Voices for Choices showed up to form a counter protest.
YAF, a conservative advocacy organization, held its annual “Cemetery of the Innocents” demonstration from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in protest of abortion. Counter protestors vowed to remain near Kogan Plaza for the entirety of YAF’s event to condemn the “shaming” of people who have decided to get abortions.
Throughout the day members from both organizations staffed tables, held signs and offered to talk with anyone passing through about their organization’s positions on the controversial issue.
YAF holds annual demonstration
About 15 members of YAF hammered more than 900 white crosses into the lawn beside Lisner Auditorium along with a sign reading “In Memory of the Lives Lost to Abortion.”
YAF also staffed a table with information about resources for expectant mothers around the District and an interactive demonstration to show the number of abortions that have occurred since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision to strike down abortion bans in 1973.
YAF President Shannon Bell said the group’s demonstration was meant as a memorial to more than just the potential lives lost to abortion.
“The way that we approach the event is the idea that abortion is a sad occurrence for both, in our perspective, the loss of a child, but also for the mother having to make that decision,” she said. “It’s honestly a memorial to the children that have lost their lives, but also memory of the trauma that mothers are put through when they have to either make that decision or the aftermath of making that decision.”
Bell said some students attempted to vandalize the crosses on display, and others approached YAF members to discuss their beliefs and engage in “productive” conversations.
Kara Zupkus, a YAF member who attended the event, said it was a way to clear up misconceptions about the pro-life movement on campus.
“We think that it’s a really sad topic and something that we find very important to our mission,” Zupkus said. “It’s kind of just a reminder when people are walking by that there is a cost to abortion and that it’s really unfortunate that it has to happen sometimes.”
Pro-choice group holds their own protest
About a half hour after YAF began to create the memorial, Voices for Choices had installed their own table with pro-choice signs, candy and condoms several yards away in Kogan Plaza.
Tessa Coughtrey, the group’s co-president, said the counter-protest was meant, in part, to support students who may have had an abortion during what could be a difficult walk through the center of campus.
“Statistically, there are people that walk through this quad that have had abortions and we just don’t want them to feel isolated, alone, or shamed,” Coughtrey said. “We want them to know that we support their right to choose, we support their right to make their own healthcare decisions based on what is best for them and not just saying it, but showing it by being out here all day and giving them someone to talk to.”
Jenna Presta, another co-president of Voices of Choices, said the group also wanted to protest because of the message the crosses send about the relationship between religion and women’s healthcare choices.
“I think that faith is something that’s very important to a lot of people and when you take something that so many people and so many women hold so close to their hearts and you turn it around and say, ‘well, this faith doesn’t accept you because of a health care decision,’ I personally don’t think that that is acceptable,” she said.
Sophomore Jacob Pearce stood in front of the demonstration with a sign that read “I’m pro-choice and this crosses the line.” He said the white crosses and YAF’s event shouldn’t be held on campus.
“I don’t think that the women on our campus who have made the choice, which they are entitled to, to have an abortion should feel shame walking through the plaza which is what we do every day,” he said.
Elizabeth Power contributed reporting.