On Tuesday, Feb. 1 around 10 a.m., the Students for Life of America and the Cal Poly Republicans club set up a booth and demonstration of red crosses on Dexter Lawn meant to represent the number of abortions Planned Parenthood performs each day. Alongside the crosses were signs that read “972 Lives Killed by Planned Parenthood Every Day” and “1 Cross = 1 Child Killed by Planned Parenthood TODAY.”
The demonstration grabbed the attention of those passing by and eventually a group of students formed to counter-protest the display.
Software engineering sophomore Jack Kilborn passed by the demonstration at around 11:15 a.m.
“Earlier in the day I saw these people advocating for pro-life, which from my understanding is a classist, racist, misogynist thing to advocate for,” Kilborn said.
Kilborn returned around 12:30 p.m., set up a bike and some tables across from the demonstration, and began inviting students on the lawn to join in counter-protest, making signs from cardboard and markers. By 2 p.m. Kilborn’s bike was covered in signs.
Kilborn also said they threw out condoms.
“Earlier I came by and tossed out some condoms to promote safe sex rather than what they’re doing, which I think, in my opinion and proven statistically, is something that leads to a lot of unsafe medical emergencies,” Kilborn said.
As the demonstration continued, more students joined Kilborn on Dexter Lawn across from the Students for Life of America booth.
“I saw pictures on my friends’ stories and stuff so I came to help support,” materials engineering junior Kat Meany said.
Meany and fellow materials engineering junior Roxy Jackson-Gain made signs that read: “Not your uterus. Not Your Choice,” “Didn’t know you hate women” and “Religion has no place in my uterus.”
Jackson-Gain said she noticed a large number of students that said they were “clearly upset” by the pro-life demonstration.
“There was one girl who came by and took the two purple signs and was walking around with them for a while while they were following her,” Jackson-Gain said.
As the demonstrations continued, upset students began to walk on top of it, pulling the red crosses out of the ground and throwing them across the field, according to Nevada and Northern-California Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America, Lea Kalinowski, who was leading the pro-life demonstration.
Kilborn said they wanted to clarify that the counter-protest movement –– making the cardboard signs across from Students for Life of America –– was not the same people who started taking down the signs.
“We’re just trying to make it visible, that on this campus, we’re not going to let this stuff happen without other opinions happening too,” Kilborn said.
Students passing by the pro-life demonstration expressed concerns that the display may evoke violent reactions from some passers-by.
“It seems every time I’ve walked by, it’s gotten a crowd, and it’s just gotten a little negative,” said liberal studies sophomore Corinne Maxfield, “With the wrong person seeing it, it could turn violent which was also a safety concern.”
Maxfield also said she worries that the message of the cross display could be harmful to some students who have had an abortion.
“It makes me feel unsafe because if I was to have an abortion, I wouldn’t feel safe on this campus and that’s a very personal decision,” Maxfield said. “Just the fact that women who have had abortions have to walk by this when that’s a very difficult decision that they’d ever have to make –– it’s just very upsetting.”
Kalinowski said that Student Lives of America isn’t demonstrating to “shame women,” and that their goals from the display were to “raise awareness about abortion, other resources besides Planned Parenthood and life-affirming resources.”
“We’re here to care about both women and children,” Kalinowski said.
Regardless of the goal of the demonstration, students said they felt it was inevitably going to lead to conflict.
“It is creating way more of a division than there needs to be on campus which is not what we’re going for at all,” liberal studies sophomore Julia McEachen said.