WACO, Texas (BP)–Baylor University officials decided Oct. 31 to move a controversial anti-abortion exhibit that was displayed on Fountain Mall, a major thoroughfare on the Baptist university campus.
Students and others gathered on Fountain Mall and debated abortion-related topics against a gruesome backdrop. The three-sided 18-foot-tall display, which shows pictures of aborted fetuses and human embryos, went up around 8 a.m. Oct. 31 and by noon students entered Pat Neff Hall looking for an explanation.
Jerome Loughridge, chief of staff for President Robert B. Sloan Jr., and Dub Oliver, dean of student development, discussed the display after an impromptu forum of students met on Oct. 31. The location was changed because elementary school students will be on campus and the display is intended for people of at least college age, Oliver said.
A group of approximately 30 outraged students stormed Sloan’s office in protest of the towering anti-abortion display, an event sponsored by the student organization Bears for Life, a pro-life group.
Sloan said he had not seen the display and then left his office for a meeting.
Bears for Life followed all requirements for gaining permission to host the event, said Houston senior Erin Connors, president of the pro-life organization. They presented student activities officials with event forms; a brochure from Justice for All, a Wichita-based nonprofit pro-life group that relies on private donations to fund trips to college campuses to show outdoor exhibits featuring graphic, abortion-related pictures; and an article from the Texas A&M Battalion newspaper about a recent JFA campus visit, Oliver said.
“They discussed it and felt it was a fundamental issue that needed to be discussed,” Connors said.
This is Bears for Life’s “big event” for the semester, and no plans have been made for future visits from Justice for All, Connors said.
The administration was presented with pictures of the exhibit and were aware of the crowds it has been known to attract, Cook said. However, campus police were unaware of the display before Oct. 31, Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak said.
“We were somewhat disappointed that we weren’t notified that this would occur,” Doak said. “Civil dialogue is okay; that is what we are trying to achieve through the rest of the afternoon.”
“If you can’t avoid something, by either hearing it or seeing it, then it’s oppressive,” Ashleigh Stokes, a Prairie Village, Kan., junior, said on the steps of Pat Neff Hall. “It’s not an issue of pro-life or pro-choice but the presentation. We should have a choice of whether we want to see this or not.”
Some students did not have problems with the enormity and graphic nature of the display.
“Why should reality in life, that makes people uncomfortable, be put aside like it’s not real?” Clint Cooper, a Paris, Texas, sophomore, said. “The display is doing its job.”
Tammy Cook, administrative director for Justice For All, said the organization’s goal “is to hopefully change hearts and save lives by showing the humanity of the unborn child and the inhumanity of abortion.”
“We regret the need for the disturbing nature of these photos, but injustice is very rarely visually appealing,” Cook said.
A recurring theme in the exhibit calls abortion “genocide,” saying that 4,000 Americans are killed everyday. Part of the display shows pictures of past victims of “systematic destruction,” including African American hanging victims.
“The hanging [pictures] are extremely inappropriate,” Liz Ligawa, a Waco senior, said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with abortion.”
“The size is important so that people can read it from afar,” Connors said from behind the barricade separating the crowd from exhibit promoters.
After seeing the same display at Texas A&M University, members of Bears for Life contacted Justice For All and invited the group to Baylor, Cook said. There was “much more reaction to the exhibit here” than at Texas A&M, Cook said.
The crowd on Fountain Mall generally conducted peaceful discussions, but as the group began to move toward Pat Neff Hall, officers followed, some in plainclothes.
Some students were concerned that the 2,200 fourth- and fifth-graders attending a symphony concert at Waco Hall would see the display, however Doak does not expect the children to be exposed.
“Those kids will never come near this area at all,” Doak said.
“There are not only Baylor students on campus – parents with children, prospective students – and they are going to see this,” Kirby Fisher, a Houston freshman, said. “You have no choice but to look at it.”
Some protestors of the exhibit removed freestanding signs reading “Warning! Genocide Photos Ahead” that were placed around Fountain Mall. “The same thing happened at the University of Texas,” Jeremy Alder of JFA said.
This story first appeared in the Baylor Lariat student newspaper.