‘Polarizing issue’ spurs debate at Winthrop

01/21/2014 11:52 PM

01/22/2014 8:21 AM

Nearly 3,000 small pink and blue flags on Winthrop University’s campus –– displayed as part of an anti-abortion campaign –– have stirred debate among students this week during the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision.

Nearly 3,000 small pink and blue flags on Winthrop University’s campus –– displayed as part of an anti-abortion campaign –– have stirred debate among students this week as the nation marks the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Winthrop’s College Republicans put out the flags in the center of campus to symbolize the nearly 56 million legal abortions in the United States since the landmark Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22, 1973, that legalized abortions. The group also plans to show on campus Wednesday a documentary that draws comparisons between legalized abortions in the U.S. and the Holocaust in Europe during World War II.

The school’s College Republican leaders say the pink and blue flags –– chosen to represent colors associated with baby boys and girls –– aren’t meant to offend anyone but, instead, to raise awareness about abortions and anti-abortion campaigns.

Still, some on campus have not responded well to the anti-abortion flags, said Tyler Richardson, the Winthrop College Republicans’ 21-year-old president. Abortion “is definitely a polarizing issue,” Richardson said.

Within an hour of putting out the flags on Sunday night, he and others saw students stealing the flags. Later, a group of five people stomped on the flags and tried to destroy them. Overnight, someone stole a sign that explained that each flag represents nearly 19,000 aborted babies since the Roe v. Wade decision. The group replaced the sign by using chalk on a nearby sidewalk to explain the flags.

But, Richardson said, there were others who seemed to appreciate the College Republican group’s anti-abortion stance. He and others in his group are seeking to present anti-abortion arguments through the lens of “human rights,” he said.

Often, he said, people who are pro-choice seem to think of the abortion issue as only about a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth. For him, Richardson said, the issue should be about human life –– in the womb –– and recognizing the sanctity of that life.

The display is modeled after a group in North Dakota that used pink and blue flags to represent the number of abortions –– nearly 70,000 –– in that state since the Roe v. Wade decision. National statistics show that the number of abortions spiked in the few years following the Supreme Court decision. More recently, sources such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Guttmacher Institute show a downward trend in abortion rates.

“Hopefully that means that the mood (toward abortions) is changing in America,” Richardson said.

He refutes common pro-choice arguments that abortions should be legal because some expecting mothers or parents may not be financially-able to support a child or emotionally ready to raise a child. Richardson believes adoption is an appropriate option for parents instead of abortion and that adoptions should be made easier for parents wanting a child. And, he said, people who believe they are not financially ready for children should take better precautions –– such as using contraception –– to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

For Winthrop senior Harrison Garvin –– who said he is “pro-choice” –– the message of the anti-abortion campaign flags were confusing at first because they were displayed close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He realized the purpose of the display after reading posts on Twitter by other Winthrop students –– some of whom were upset by the anti-abortion message.

Garvin, 24, has an eight-month-old son. Abortion can be a “taboo topic,” he said, but he believes in a woman’s right to choose because “some people may just not be ready to have a child.”

Fellow students, juniors Marie Tumaniec and Jandry Fernandez, said they felt similarly. The flags on campus could make someone feel guilty, Fernandez said, about thinking about an abortion, which is “a heavy decision.”

They also took issue with the film planned for Wednesday: “180,” a 33-minute documentary-style film that draws parallels between abortion and Adolf Hitler’s sanctioned killing of nearly 6 million Jewish people during World War II.

When the film was released in 2011, the Anti-Defamation League –– a nonprofit group that bills itself as fighting “anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry” –– called the “180” movie “cynical and perverse.” Made by Ray Comfort, a Christian evangelist, the film is “one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years,” Anti-Defamation League leaders have said.

While the flags and film may upset some, Richardson said, the College Republicans’ goal is not to offend. The movie is anti-abortion, he said, and his only goal is to get people thinking about the consequences of abortions.

“One of the things that is preached a lot at Winthrop is tolerance,” Richardson said.

If there’s debate afterward, he said, he hopes it is in accord with what people expect during political discussions at a university and tolerant of those who hold anti-abortion views and agree with the movie.

Want to go?

What: Free viewing of “180” movie, an anti-abortion documentary by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort who set out to draw comparisons between legalized abortion in the U.S. and the genocide of Jewish people during the World War II. Comfort notes that the movie contains “graphic” images.

When: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m.

Where: Winthrop’s Owens building, room G01

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