An impromptu student protest broke out in front of District House Monday afternoon after a Catholic anti-abortion group started a demonstration in Kogan Plaza.
About 10 members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property set up banners and signs on H Street at about noon to condemn abortion. The group handed out pamphlets listing 10 reasons “to protect the unborn,” including “abortion offends God” and “mankind must protect innocent life.”
But about 15 students carrying Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights signs gathered across the street at about 12:30 p.m. and began chants like, “Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die.” The director of the anti-abortion group eventually crossed the street to debate with some of the students for at least a half hour.
Freshman Blake Flayton said he was the first to stand across the street from the demonstrators with a sign supporting a woman’s right to choose. Flayton carried a NARAL Pro-Choice America sign reading, “Pro-Freedom. Pro-Justice. Pro-Choice.”
He said he decided to start the protest because women in his family have previously faced restrictions in accessing reproductive care.
“I believe it’s a moral issue, and I can’t just stand by and let an opinion like this to go unchallenged,” he said.
Flayton said he hoped the protest inspired passersby to consider the importance of voting for politicians who support reproductive freedom.
John Ritchie, the director of the TFP who debated with student protesters, said GW is a stop on the group’s tour of college campuses to “defend innocent life.” Ritchie said that the group did change “a few” minds, including a student who he said initially yelled at him but, by the end of the conversation, said he was reconsidering his position.
“We can’t make important decisions, especially on moral issues, based on an emotion,” Ritchie said. “We have to look at reality, and reality is that life begins in the womb and to do anything to destroy that pre-born baby is an act that is offensive to God.”
About seven GW Police Department officers responded to the protests to keep sidewalks clear.
Freshmen Pilar Reyes and Surya Bromley said they approached a member of the TFP to understand why the group promoted pro-life beliefs. Bromley said she was curious why there were no women demonstrating with the group, and a member allegedly told her that women cannot handle violence that often breaks out at protests.
“I find it so offensive for men to tell me what I can do with my body,” Bromley said.
Freshman Stephanie Johnson, a member of the Feminist Student Union, said she was surprised that the group decided to stop on GW’s largely liberal campus. She said she walked out of District House and decided to join the protest because women should have the freedom to choose whether to have an abortion.
“You can not want an abortion, but the right to choose is inherently your right, so for a bunch of white guys to stand around here and tell me what they think my rights are is extremely frustrating,” she said.
Kelly Hooper contributed reporting.