Over 50 UCR students gathered near the Bell Tower last Thursday to protest the erection of large pro-life banners on campus, controversially displaying graphic images of fetuses during the earliest stages of pregnancy and juxtaposing aborted fetuses with the images of victims of tragic historical events such as the Holocaust.

One of the leading protesters, Irene Morrison, urged UCR administrators to take down the banners, which she saw as endangering the safety and reproductive freedoms of a woman. “We had a woman crying her eyes out here after seeing this and the university has a responsibility to protect its students,” Morrison said. “Hate speech is not free speech.”

“It’s taking away the safe space from women on this campus,” Candace Edsel, a fifth-year history major who protested the pro-life signs, said. “The fact that students are crying about an event that is not put on by students, and admin are standing and watching it happen — they care more about this than the rights of students? That’s not okay.”

The display was organized by the Center for Bio-ethical Reform (CBR), a pro-life organization dedicated to establishing prenatal rights to life for the unborn, disabled and vulnerable people through educational seminars. Invited by the pro-life campus organization Students for Life, CBR spearheads projects such as: the Reproductive “Choice” Campaign, the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), Matthew 28:20 and AbortionNO.

CBR Director of Operations Kevin Olivier says that many people have never seen prenatal development and do not know what abortions look like. He adds that banners were enlarged to create more awareness about the process of abortion, which is inherently “graphic” to see.

“It’s important (to display) because a lot of people do not know what a preborn baby looks like.” Olivier says. “We want students to know the facts about abortion so that they can have a well-informed debate about them.”

Students for Life member and second-year microbiology student Sarah Smith said the images used by the GAP, which “compares the Jewish genocide during the Holocaust to the genocide of the unborn in the U.S.,” are not used to offend anyone in any way.

“The killing of Jews was legal and justified because they were seen as sub-human or not even humans at all,” Smith said. “We see a parallel of this occurring today in the U.S. where the personhood of the unborn, who are human beings from the moment of conception, is not being granted.”

With campus administrators watching, UCR’s assistant vice chancellor and dean of students Ryan Alcantara said the protest was based more on an “issue of free speech” and finding a balance for it. Alcantara says it is important to be “respectful” by providing an open atmosphere for discussion over issues surrounding gender respect and the portrayal of women in media.