Professor Arrested for Complaint Against Campus Display Comparing Abortion to Genocide

sunybuffLast Monday, State University of New York at Buffalo adjunct professor Laura Curry was arrested for what the Huffington Post has flippantly called a “profanity-laced tirade over a pro-life display on campus.” The display, installed by the so-called Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) in front of the highly trafficked Student Union, assaults unwitting students and faculty with huge billboards of Holocaust victims, lynched bodies, the Cambodian killing fields and aborted fetuses, with incendiary captions like “The Changing Face of Choice.”

The HuffPost coverage, much like the characteristically misogynist pieces that recently ran on a Fox news website, which appears equally uninterested in any of the details of Curry’s arrest, could just as soon be met with Curry’s original argument: that the outrageous hate speech, thinly veiled sexist propaganda and lack of critical discussion surrounding a display that equates abortion with genocide is the most warped and cruel profanity-laced tirade a woman could be met with.

The so-called Genocide Awareness Project—also known as the College Campus Outreach division of The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform—is an absurd misnomer. In 1997, this far-right group began touring a “photo-mural exhibit” that compares abortion to several genocides. Today, the “exhibit” continues to close down any chance of discourse on abortion on college campuses across the country. As six professors wrote in a letter to the UB Spectrum, “This kind of political action requires much deliberation, which unfortunately was missing from yesterday’s anti-abortion protest.” Instead, GAP attempts to traumatize and confuse students into submission. GAP should not be allowed on college campuses, where intellectual vigor, critical thinking and historical accuracy are supposed to be central tenets.

As Cayden Mak, a witness to Laura’s arrest and now the head of the defense committee for Laura’s arraignment, said:

The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s MO is to display triggering images and then engage passersby in conversation. This happened, and both [Laura and I] got in arguments with picketers. The police who were already on the scene did not like Laura’s tone and asked her to simmer down, at which point she asked why her tone and use of the f-bomb were offensive, while the display in question was not interfered with on the part of the police. That’s where you get to the point of the arrest video. […] It made the campus feel unsafe for a number of people in a variety of identity groups. This is non-trivial, and just because [GAP’s] disturbance was not sonically loud doesn’t mean its effects weren’t deep.”

In other words, campus police, well outside their rights, arrested a woman who might be an F-word (feminist) for saying the F-word (fuck!). An instructor in SUNY Buffalo’s media studies department, Curry is well-aware that images speak volumes, especially when accompanied by duplicitous and accusatory rhetoric. Rather than demonize Curry as a hysterical liberal woman who “can’t handle the truth about abortion,” recent coverage of the arrest might do better to consider the context of Curry’s arrest.

After all, the tagline for this project is “graphically exposing the injustice of abortion.” This “photo-mural” is a radical attempt to shame women with scare tactics, morph the reality of abortion and co-opt the horrific legacy of genocide for religious and political dogma. In addition, the group is self-admittedly fond of threatening feminist groups with litigious action if they speak out against their fear tactics.

GAP’s contradictory logic also frames this effort to legislate women’s bodies as an anti-government movement, but of course the real aim here is intense government intervention. Genocide is defined by the United Nations as a systematic effort to destroy a religious, ethnic or racial group. It is an attempt to conduct politics on the body. Anti-abortion activists attempt to move politics further onto the female body in an effort to advance their own political agenda. Of course this is in direct contradiction to conservative petitions for the privatization of health care and reduced governmental “bureaucracy.” And yet, when it comes to a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, this logic is suddenly reversed. It seems that, for conservatives, women cannot be trusted with the same political rights as their male counterparts.

The group claims that abortion is akin to a “government massacre” and considers “the right to not be pregnant” to be “a far lesser right” than that of “unborn Americans.” GAP conveniently forgets the very gendered and racialized inflection of the atrocities they irresponsibly appropriate. The campaigns fails to acknowledge the rape camps of Bosnia, the ongoing use of women’s bodies as a weapon of war in the Congo (and elsewhere), and the continued disregard in the West for long-standing genocidal atrocities such what is happening in Sudan. Nor do the photos engage with the harmful rape culture of the U.S., which, as Steubenville showed us, continues to teach young boys that a woman’s body is not her own, is even a kind of plaything.

Anti-abortion propaganda like this also ignores the extensive gendered history of reproductive regulation in capitalism, which helps to maintain a division of labor that sees a woman’s place as the home, affirms rape culture, reinscribes the figure of the hysterical woman and perpetuates immobility for low-income citizens.

As the professors who spoke out against GAP’s visit to UB argue, the “inability to see women as capable of making decisions about their own sexuality” and the “pretense of protection” are all intimately linked to totalitarian forms of control. Moreover, the destruction of individuality at work here is also a primary mechanism of genocidal logic. The point is not to reverse GAP’s charges—as that would not advance the conversation either—but rather to show their twisted manipulation of history and their dictatorial philosophy.

GAP campaign materials argues that there “are many definitions of the word genocide.” Their website offers many downloadable documents that rely on erroneous statistics and extreme rants against anyone objecting to their methods, and confirms that the group does not support abortion under any circumstances, not even in the case of rape or threat to a woman’s body. Moreover, GAP’s installations attempt to convince students that abortion after rape is akin to “honor killings.” Such statements only sanction violence against women, as well as rape-culture paradigms that view women as “ruined” by sexual violence.

As an educator at SUNY Buffalo, it terrifies me to think that my students are being exposed, against their will, to such inflammatory and convoluted reasoning. The logic at work here is so faulty that one can hardly begin to engage with it. What is perhaps most poignant about Curry’s arrest is that it shows one woman trying to enter into a critical debate and not being heard. Many of us know this feeling of unendurable frustration and anger acutely, because many of us have for years felt that we are not being heard.

The argument for safe access to abortion is in no way operating under totalitarian logic. In fact, quite the opposite. Our only wish is that women are not unilaterally cut out of their own personal medical decisions. As a recent Planned Parenthood campaign argues, the abortion debate “is not a black and white issue.” Binary labels like “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are inadequate and misleading. They simply do not capture what is at stake here, which is a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body. Both sides must find new language to approach our conversations about this issue, and sexist and racist propaganda like GAP’s completely foreclose critical discussion.

We are all Laura Curry! Please sign the petition against her unjust arrest:

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Photo courtesy of chaceliang via Creative Commons 2.0.

About

Amanda is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles, where she earned her MFA in Critical Studies & Writing from California Institute of the Arts. She recently completed a memoir, and is now working on book of poems, as well as a series of essays exploring the dynamics of forgiveness, reconciliation and national recoveries from mass atrocities. Her work has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Explosion Proof Magazine, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (MIT Press), Delirious Hem, Nanofiction, Night Train and others. She was a nominee for the 2010 Million Writer's Award.