Drawing a line in the sand for offensive and grotesque speech
Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of not walking past aborted fetuses on my way to lunch. For some time, a yellow tri-fold display, covered with vague moral assertions and images of underdeveloped, disembodied limbs, had resided in a display case near the stairs in the Ferguson Center. Every time I walked past it, I was filled with a rush of nausea – both from the display’s graphic imagery and its tone.
So when I found the display gone, I was relieved. But predictably, not everyone was as happy to see it go. When the display was removed due to complaints, Bama Students for Life wrote a letter to the Ferguson Center demanding an apology and the return of their poster to its case.
According to BSFL, the removal of the display was unlawful because administrators cannot “ban offensive speech,” and because other organizations are allowed to post “offensive” material in the Ferg, regarding “women’s health, safety issues and the consequences of sex.”
Let’s examine the content of the BSFL display: First, starting in the top left, were photographs of women who had died of abortion-related procedures. There was no accompanying statistical information, of course, because actual facts about abortion tend to show that it’s a relatively safe procedure. But I suppose BSFL didn’t think it would be advantageous to mention the .05 percent complication rate of legal abortions.
Below the photos of dead women were two other pictures: one of Kermit Gosnell, labeled a “Philadelphia abortionist and MURDERER,” and a second depicting a “‘house of horrors’ abortion center.”
Elsewhere on the poster were the words “Not safe, not rare, just legal,” and numerous images of dissected fetuses. Above the display was hung babies’ footwear, reminiscent of images from the Holocaust. Nowhere on the display was there any statistical or scientific fact, unless you count a reporting of the number of abortions that have been performed since Roe v. Wade.
Clearly, the informative value of this display was substantial.
But that’s irrelevant. More centrally, the Ferguson Center didn’t “ban” anyone’s free speech. Space in the displays is a limited resource allocated by the University, and I know from experience it’s hard to get. BSFL still has the right to say whatever it wants; it simply lost a selective medium through which to do so.
As to other “offensive” speech in the Ferg, BSFL cited advertisements for the play “Blood Wedding,” which features – brace yourselves – illustrated blood. They also mentioned an ad which featured frontal male nudity, because the only thing more offensive than photographs of dissected body parts is a penis.
Abortion is a complex topic deserving of meaningful debate. We deserve a pro-life group that will have debate, instead of the dishonest and vacuous spew from BSFL.
I know people in BSFL who are intelligent and impassioned. The group has the capital and the inspiration to enrich the University’s political culture. So please, stop showing us dead fetuses. Stop telling us that abortion is more dangerous than it really is. Stop defending vulgar, mindless displays by misrepresenting the First Amendment. BSFL can make this campus better. Please stop making it uglier.
Nathan James is a junior majoring in public relations. His column runs weekly.