On Sept. 18, in the Glenn G. Bartle Library breezeway, an anti-abortion table set up by the Binghamton University College Republicans and Students for Life of America (SFLA) featured massive dramatic signs reading “I am a person” and “abortion kills human persons” alongside photos of fetuses and children. The “pro-life” table was met with student protest, which included protestors chanting, as well as students dropping the tables’ “model fetuses” into their mouths.

As an E-Board, we had a variety of reactions to the events that occurred in Bartle Library. First, we commend the student protestors for standing up for a crucial right, and affirm that disagreement and protest are crucial to learning. We also hope that space for healthy conversation about polarizing topics can be fostered on campus.

Abortion is an extremely polarizing issue across the United States, with good reason. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, 21 states currently ban abortion or restrict it to an earlier time in pregnancy than Roe’s previously set standard, leaving one in three women in the United States lacking access to abortion care. The gutting of Roe has significant harmful implications for young people and college students, with women between 20 and 29 making up 57 percent of those obtaining legal abortions. While disagreement is inevitable, and healthy to our democracy, talking with someone who is anti-choice can feel as if they are directly violating your autonomy. For those who have experienced abortion, or had people close to them experience it, this feeling is exacerbated. It can be extremely emotionally taxing to even engage with those who disagree.

After the events in Bartle Library transpired, the SFLA took to their blog to criticize pro-choice protesters for swallowing their fetal models. According to their website, BU is the third school at which student protestors have eaten their model fetuses. SFLA’s article, “Fetal Models Aren’t Food,” asserts that “education is no longer the main objective of [BU] — the goal is now conformity.” The article blames protestors for rejecting their attempts at conversation, with the secretary of the College Republicans and a senior double-majoring in history and political science, arguing that “They express themselves in ways that are increasingly graphic and illegal, and they act with impunity because institutions encourage this behavior.” However, these arguments feel hypocritical, given the graphic and extreme nature of the slogans and images displayed by the pro-choice table. Additionally, the rhetoric used by SFLA on their website is consistently derogatory and inflammatory when referring to pro-choice activists, such as a video titled “This Crazed Pro-Abort Chewed On Our Fetal Models!” SFLA’s propaganda and behavior does not suggest the desire for conversation, but to assert their viewpoint unchallenged.

It is unlikely that the events that occurred in the Bartle library bridged the ideological gap between the tablers and protestors, and likely increased tension. However, when an issue is as personal and emotionally charged as abortion, it can be taxing and extremely frustrating to even engage with those who disagree with how you should be able to make decisions concerning your body. In the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court majority famously ruled that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Public debate is at the core of America’s democratic values, and should be encouraged in educational environments. Just as the pro-life tablers had the right to express their views, pro-choice protesters had every right to protest.

That being said, disagreement over polarizing issues like abortion can be fueled by ignorance, and is certainly not mended without education and conversation. For example, the anti-choice tables’ posters described abortion as “the direct and intentional killing of innocent humans by starving, suctioning, poisoning or dismembering them to death.” As Dara Silberstein, an associate research professor of women, gender and sexuality studies mentioned, the tablers might have been “more impactful if their argument against reproductive rights was based on facts rather than the pseudoscience displayed.” Disagreements about “personhood” and when “human life” begins are often central to anti-choice arguments. Biologists and embryologists lack consensus about “personhood” because it is a social, not biologically defined category, which explains why disagreement is seemingly irreconcilable. However, biologists have asserted that the “multicellular pre-implantation embryo cannot be equated with a human being,” and that life is a continuum, rather than beginning at one point. Additionally, arguments about “fetal personhood’ are often fueled by misogynistic myths that equate fertilization with new life, rather than the birth of an actual child, and ignore the harm that not receiving an abortion can cause to a very human mother. The disagreements underlying abortion arguments are complex, but disentangling the religious and social influences shaping them can be crucial to fostering effective conversation moving forward.

Finally, we once again acknowledge the right of pro-life students to table and share their views, but firmly stand with pro-choice protestors. If pro-life activists sincerely want to engage in conversation, they should reconsider advertising graphic and extreme imagery and verbiage, especially misinformation, about such a personal and emotional issue. Moving forward, we hope to see the University and student groups foster meaningful conversation and continue to bring attention to the issue of abortion rights being threatened across the country.

Pipe Dream has published a list of on- and off-campus health centers where BU students can obtain sexual and reproductive health resources.