The between-class banter in the Stevenson Union courtyard was louder than usual this past Monday with talk of murder, Jesus Christ, trauma and tacos.
Students gathered outside of the SU watching Mark Mayberry waving a cardboard poster. The poster displayed a larger-than-life sized photograph of a bloodied and gooey 10-week old fetus. Meanwhile, his wife Lori Mayberry handed out anti-abortion pamphlets and another man stood on a concrete bench waving a bible and preaching its contents. Passersby lingered, some strayed from their paths to speculate.
The Mayberry’s identify themselves as abortion abolitionists and are associated with the nationwide grassroots group Project Frontlines, in which nobody is really in charge, “Except for Jesus, of course,” Lori clarified. They have traveled around Oregon to disseminate anti-abortion messages at high schools, colleges, and abortion clinics. “Our goal is to change hearts and minds,” said Lori.
“I feel sick to my stomach,” said one student as she fled the scene. “Why are we giving them the attention they crave?” asked another before turning to leave.
Others stayed, some for hours. Amidst the agitation some students responded with counter protests, both vocal and visual. Protestors stood beside the Mayberry’s, waving poster boards that looked as if they were quickly bought from the neighboring bookstore. The Sharpie-scrawled signs advocated the freedom of choice and other messages in open opposition to the Mayberrys’.
One poster had the words “Never Again” written above the image of a wire hanger, a nod to the self-induced abortions performed by women lacking resources, including many women before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion.
Another poster read “MY BODY, MY CHOICE”. To this Lori replied, “That sounds really nice and yeah everybody wants a right over their own body. But that baby is not their body. That baby is a separate human being. God made women to sacrifice nine months of their lives so they can give life. It’s a wonderful privilege.” Unable to bear children herself, Lori has adopted four children, three of which were born of what, she identified, as unfit mothers.
One student stood a few feet removed from the scene with a courtesy sign that read in bold letters “TRIGGER WARNING”, a gesture that grew from criticisms of Mark’s fetus poster for its sensationalism and exploitation of trauma.
Lori had her own criticisms. A group of students waving signs praising tacos puzzled her, “That isn’t a discussion. That’s just a diversion.”
Discussion was beside the point to these taco lovers. “We’re advocating for free speech just like everybody else here. We have the freedom to say that tacos are great. With tacos you get to choose what you want. It’s not an argument, it’s a statement,” said Tavis Williams, the campaign mastermind.
Student voices were not limited to disapproval. Like most debates about the subject, questions surfaced about justice, human rights, and abortion in cases concerning rape or incest. The Mayberry’s answered by citing bible verses and the information detailed in their promotional literature.
Towards the end of the day, protesters resolved to an active silence. “Let’s not feed the trolls,” instructed one student as the group stood with their backs turned to the Mayberry’s. But while the SU quieted down, the topic of abortion found its way into classroom chatter.