PSU stands up to the anti-choice bigots

Hanna Eid and John Monroe report from Portland on the pro-choice mobilization when the anti-abortion bigots brought their lies to the Portland State University campus.

Pro-choice activists mobilize against the right at Portland State University (Jamie Partridge | SW)Pro-choice activists mobilize against the right at Portland State University (Jamie Partridge | SW)

STUDENTS, FACULTY and staff at Portland State University (PSU) stood together on October 16 and 17 to counterprotest against a grotesque exhibit of the anti-choice fanatics that compares abortions to the Holocaust and lynchings.

Huge signs towered over students, showing pictures of supposed fetuses side by side with photos of a lynched Black person and the Nazis' infamous yellow Star of David, as well as a swastika. Another giant panel claimed that abortion was an attack on Black votes, and the Black Lives Matter slogan was superimposed over the reactionary All Lives Matter, as if to claim both for the right-wing attack on reproductive rights.

"It felt like a hate crime when I first saw it," said Jess Shamek, a PSU student. "I deal with harassment and micro aggressions every day. Yesterday, I was harassed sexually on the train. I don't know why I can't exist without this happening."

Camille Avian, a member of the International Socialist Organization who helped to organize the counterprotest, explained that the intention of anti-choice activists "is to trigger and activate. They want to bait people into getting angry and lashing out at them. They want people who have had abortions to feel shame, guilt and fear."

While their display was large, the actual anti-choice turnout was tiny--they were easily outnumbered by counterprotesters, who rallied against the display. "Many students joined us to help pass out abortion fact sheets, chant pro-choice slogans and hold signs saying things like 'Lies,' with an arrow pointing to the bigots, or 'Trust women,'" Avian said.

Just two days before, counterprotesters mobilized another action against the same group when it tried to put on an anti-abortion "training" session. Supposedly, the session was moved to another location once counterprotesters arrived.

Our side, which drew as many as 50 people, took this "move" as an opportunity to hold a victory rally and speak-out.

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ORGANIZED BY a student group called PSU Pro-Life, which has a total of six members on the PSU campus, the "Abortion is genocide" event was backed by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR).

Founded in 1990, this organization has a long and notorious career of promoting false and racist analogies about genocide and displaying deeply disturbing photos, many of which are fabricated. Since 1997, the CBR has been touring its Genocide Awareness Campaign around college campuses--playing its part in the backlash against the gains of feminism, especially around reproductive rights.

Anti-choice activists have been escalating their tactics all over the country. On September 15, they physically invaded clinics in three cities in a coordinated assault. Like so many others on the far right, they have been emboldened by a presidential administration that gives voice to reactionary politics and backs them up with state power.

Actions like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' rollback of federal guidelines on campus sexual assault or Trump's latest attack on reproductive rights show right-wingers that they can safely terrorize women and anyone else who can give birth or is vulnerable to sexual assault.

And through its connection to other right-wing outfits like the American Freedom Law Center, CBR leaders prove that they aren't single-issue bigots. They are linking together an anti-choice, Islamophobic, anti-Arab and racist agenda.

Activists can't focus only on Trump and his goons either.

During the counterprotest to the "Abortion is Genocide" event, university personnel prohibited counterdemonstrators from using tables or megaphones, citing rules that haven't been used in years. This is one of an increasing number of bureaucratic obstacles that university administrators are creating for left-wing student groups.

While claiming to be an inclusive campus that is responsive to women's health care and safety needs, the PSU administration is undermining the only way opponents of restrictions on abortion can protect their rights: mass mobilization.

At a time when more women than ever are attending colleges and universities, we will have to continue to mobilize counter-protests. As Camille Avian concluded:

As long as women and other people with uteruses do not have full control over their decision to give birth, then we do not control our bodies. Limiting the rights of people who are capable of giving birth leads to dangerous practices like back-alley abortions that kill women. We are for the politics of my body means my choice."

Sarah Levy and Jamie Partridge contributed to this article.