Confronting the Anti-Women, Anti-Abortion “Genocide Awareness Project” at the University of Houston

By Jamilah Hoffman 

Last Friday afternoon, the Dean of Students at the University of Houston sent an email letting the university community know that a group calling itself the Center for Bioethical Reform was “using its First Amendment rights” to present something called the “Genocide Awareness Project” (GAP) at the campus for three days. I read the email thinking Darfur, Rwanda or Serbia, places where real genocides have occurred. 
But actually, this group makes the outrageous and infuriating comparison between abortion and actual genocide, and is going to campuses around the country showing enlarged and graphic photos of alleged aborted fetuses, trying to mobilize opposition to a woman’s right to abortion among college students. 
I was pissed off and figured I had to do something. But what was that going to be? The U of H campus is not known for its radicalism or even activism. It would be difficult to corral a bunch of students to protest this outrageous display, but I knew these people couldn't go unopposed. That's when I thought of Norma Rae.
Norma Rae is the name of a movie and the character in it played by Sally Field. She is part of a group that is trying to create a union at the plant where she works and has come under heavy repression by her bosses. As she's being fired and led out of the plant, she jumps on a table, with a sign she just made that says “UNION.” This is considered an iconic moment in movie history, and it is powerful moment in the movie. What happens is that the rest of the employees start to shut off their machines, refusing to work and joining Norma Rae in the fight to unionize. It's a good movie, but the symbolic act of taking a stand, even if you are the only one, can actually inspire others who feel the same way, but are afraid to show it, to stand with you. I decided that I would make a poster and have my “Norma Rae” moment.
So on Monday, when these people put up their display, I walked up, nervous, shaking, but determined and I got right in front of them and raised my sign that said, “Abortion is NOT Murder.”
People were looking at my sign but nothing was happening so I started shouting, “Abortion is NOT Murder. A Fetus is NOT a Baby. Women are NOT Incubators.” This got things going. Debate was flowing back and forth. One guy was in my face, talking about the child and the baby, the child and the baby on and on and I asked him, “What about the woman?” He looked at me incredulously and asked back, “What about the woman?” I told him that's exactly what I'm talking about, that's exactly why I'm protesting, you've said the woman doesn’t matter and she's a pretty big part of this.  
Some students who were just walking by took pages of notebook paper and made their own signs because they didn't want me to be out there by myself. We defiantly and definitely shifted the political initiative from the Christian Fascists of GAP.
A lot of the controversy was based on the use of the term genocide to describe abortion. Students found it deeply offensive that the woman haters of the GAP compare the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews and racist Jim Crow terror against Black people to an abortion. People were also angered at the comparison the GAP people made of the SS, Nazi storm troopers, and KKK, Klu Klux Klan, to Planned Parenthood. Many said these comparisons are wrong, and while they may not “like abortion” or think it should be a “last resort”, they did not agree to these comparisons being made and said that they angered people and alienated them from the anti-abortion cause. Some others had a clearer understanding that the attacks on abortion are all about, as a homemade sign one young woman brought, “trying to put women back in ‘their place’”.
We kept at this for the 3 days the GAP people were there. The debate grew more intense and the opposition to GAP more determined each day. One young woman I spoke with on Monday, came back and told me on Wednesday that our protests made her think about this subject really hard and she came to the conclusion that murder is when you kill someone that's alive, like through lethal injection as the state of Texas does so often. That those are real people with heartbeats and lives, and that abortion is not murder. A clump of cells shouldn't have more rights than the woman. She felt that the woman should be able to live her life.

Watch the video

The counter protests we waged opened up ferment that has not been see on this campus in a long time and it did change the political climate on campus. People intensely debated issues like morality and religion. One theme that came up a lot among people opposing GAP was that abortion is this tragic choice. They felt like women don't want abortions and that it's a horrible, horrible thing to happen. I responded no, that isn't necessarily so. There are plenty of women who have abortions and don't feel guilty. Most of the time it's society and other people who are making them feel guilty.
I told them that abortion isn't a bad thing, it's a medical procedure. People who at first were calling this a tragic choice began nodding their heads in agreement with me. By the last day, I brought out more fully that this really is about women's role in society and whether women were going to be enslaved to their biology or full and equal participants in society. That changed the tone of the protest on the last day.
These protests weren't planned in any traditional way. I took a stand out there on a crucial question, and people spontaneously joined me. Then a newly formed feminist group on campus that I had never heard of came out to the protests as well. By Wednesday, we were all connected and this was the talk around campus.



World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.