VIDEO: Display comparing abortion to genocide flares emotions at FGCU

The Genocide Awareness Project comes to FGCU

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— Racially-motivated lynchings. The Holocaust. Modern-day genocide. Abortion.

This week, a traveling display at Florida Gulf Coast University is drawing a literal connection between all four. The Genocide Awareness Project, an exhibit by the Center for Bio Ethical Reform, is spending two days on display on the lawn in front of the FGCU library, engaging students in debate and seeking to change minds on the issue of abortion.

“It’s to stimulate a dialogue on bio-ethical issues and to reach the target audience, which is university students,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of the Center for Bio Ethical Reform Midwest. “They are our future decision-makers and leaders. They are also more likely to have abortions.”

More than 50 percent of women who get abortions are under the age of 25, Harrington said, making college students a critical group to reach.

On Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the two-day display at FGCU, hundreds of students listened in on the debate hosted by Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. Some students simply passed by the display on their way to mid-term exams — it was impossible to dismiss with its poster-sized depictions of aborted fetuses — others camped out on the lawn to listen.

Joseph Imbruglia, 22, spent four hours on the library lawn listening to Gray debate students — not in support, but in protest. He encouraged female students to fight what he said is the politicization of their reproductive organs, and shouted at Gray when he disagreed or felt that she was not addressing a student’s question directly.

But for Imbruglia, a junior, the exhibit struck an even more personal nerve. His mother’s family survived the Armenian genocide of World War I, and other family members survived the Holocaust in Poland during World War II.

“I believe it’s morally reprehensible to equate killing a clump of cells in a woman’s body to making a conscious decision to kill an entire race of people,” Imbruglia said. “Nobody wants (the Center for Bio Ethical Reform) here.”

Organizers of the project were allowed to set up on campus based on the rules governing other groups, regardless of content, according to university spokeswoman Susan Evans: With enough advance notice, the Center for Bio Ethical Reform had the right to be there. The university does not take a position on the exhibit, nor on other groups conducting displays on campus, she added.

Kaitlyn Bunn, a junior, said she is a full supporter of free speech. But, she said, she felt the organizers of the project were “overdoing it,” and that the exhibit, which features photos of dead adults and fetuses, was “gory.”

“I want to hear her point of view,” Bunn said of Gray. “I do like the fact that she’s not preaching. I would not do it personally, but you can’t take away other people’s rights.”

The students expressing opinions on the lawn — either on a microphone to discuss issues with Gray, or on nearby “free speech” boards — largely opposed the display and supported abortion rights. Messages scrawled on the board nearby read “Keep your religion out of my vagina,” “What if Hitler was aborted?” and, written beside a drawing of a wire clothes hanger, “this used to be a medical instrument.”

“I think by this age we’ve all made up our minds on this issue,” said student Courtney Baker.

But Judy Minahan, a Fort Myers resident, said she thinks the exhibit still has the power to change minds.

“There are many students who will come by and they have never seen an aborted child,” said Minahan, 69. “This image will stick with them, and when the time comes, they will think of it.”

She called the photos of fetuses — some with the tiny arms ripped off and laid over U.S. coins reading “In God we trust” — “appropriate.”

“I think that college students are very often not aware of what abortion is,” said Minahan, 69. “I think (the exhibit is) very necessary. People at this age of their life are approaching parenthood. They’re asking all of the tough questions; this is the right place.”

Minahan got to the university around 1:15 p.m., and planned to stick around for a while. However, the discussion soon devolved into a one-sided shouting match as students yelled at Gray when they believed she was evading questions.

The dialogue ended about a half hour later, when a student asked Gray a hypothetical question: If she had the option of saving a 5-year-old girl from a burning building, or 500 frozen, fertilized embryos, which would she save?

Gray said she would attempt to save both, which led dozens of students to shout, “You’re not answering the question.”

Harrington, who has taken the exhibit to the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida in recent weeks, said it is generally time to stop discussions when the shouting becomes an issue and emotions get raw. But, he said, the display at FGCU was nothing out of the ordinary.

“Most of the places, this is what we look for: an exchange of ideas,” he said. “Towards the end, there was a little bit of shouting; we know when to end it. Occasionally, individual students act out in isolated ways. There is a lot of emotion tied to the issue.”

The display continues Thursday on the library lawn at FGCU, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale

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