There’s a lot to say about the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, the anti-abortion activist group you might have seen prowling the Humanities area of Ring Road. We could talk about the cognitive dissonance between the pro-life argument and actual science. We could talk about the transparent taking of medical text out of context to serve an inhumane agenda. We could talk about the manipulative and abusive tactics by which these protestors recruit others. But, as much as I want to deep-dive into the horror show that is anti-abortion activism, that’s not why we’re here today. The most important thing you, the protestors, and the managing faculty of UC Irvine can understand today is this:
They have no right to be here.
“But Brooke,” I hear you saying, “UCI is a public place and they’re protected by their Freedom of Speech.” What a compelling point! If the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform were simply standing on their soap-box, shouting pseudo-scientific swill at students, I would fully (though reluctantly) agree with you. But, as you may have noticed, that’s not all they’re doing. This group has commanded a large section of Ring Road, unavoidable if you have a class in Humanities Hall or the surrounding area. The section is lined with huge banners depicting graphic images of post-abortion fetuses, lynched bodies, and deceased Holocaust victims in living color. While there are signs just beyond this display warning onlookers of “abortion photos ahead.” There is not a word about images of post-genocide corpses.
The Freedom of Speech as outlined in the Constitution is not absolute and comes with it a set of restrictions. As outlined in the 1972 case of Grayned vs. City of Rockford, free speech is restricted by time, place, and manner, meaning that the “restrictions … are valid provided that they are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” Essentially, no one is guaranteed the right to speak in a public forum, especially if their speech hinders the others from living their own lives freely.
I pay upwards of $15,000 a year to live, study, and attend classes at UC Irvine, and that’s just the in-state cost. The university I attend has an obligation to deliver one thing: an education. More specifically, an education uninterrupted by mental, physical, or emotional harm. As students we have the right to feel safe on our campus. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s unavoidable and purposefully-vile presence here is in direct opposition to that right. Their presentation is an act of violence.
I know dozens of women who are victims of sexual assault. Seeing graphic images of their own trauma painted as “genocide” is more than enough to trigger panic attacks, reverse years of therapy, and uncover harmful, even suicidal tendencies that come with that kind of life changing pain. Black students being forced to view images of the horrors of institutional racism and the horrific mass murder of their race in America exploited to control women’s bodies is tantamount to spitting in the face of history. Jewish students watching the recontextualization and appropriation of one of the most devastating events to their culture in history is a purposeful opening of decades-old wounds for the sake of shock value. These already-marginalized groups are being forced to relive the violence of the past and present with zero attention paid to how it will affect their ability to study, work, and exist in peace. To allow this to continue on a college campus sends a very clear message: allowing hateful words and images on UCI campus is more important than our students.
This is a direct violation of the aforementioned restrictions on the First Amendment. Yes, UC Irvine is a public space. Yes, people have the right to spread their beliefs. But they do not have the right to interrupt our daily lives with graphic violence and undeniably triggering material for the sake of pseudoscience and outright falsehoods. With the number of options for information-dispersal, there is no excuse for them targeting marginalized communities with their rebranded horror show. For the sake of their students, it is UC Irvine’s responsibility to reform their notions about free speech and campus-appropriate content.
Brooke Morris is a fourth year English major and Drama minor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.