By Kathleen Gilbert
BERKELEY, California, October 28, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The University of California Berkeley campus erupted into a hotbed of controversy earlier this week after the Genocide Awareness Project set up an immense two-day display of graphic abortion images in the midst of what is considered one of the most liberal universities in America.
The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform teamed up with the on-campus group Berkeley Students for Life on Monday and Tuesday to set up the large images of aborted children, juxtaposed with the images and words of President Obama. The huge billboards quickly attracted curious onlookers and angry local abortion supporters. (See pictures of the billboards here)
Opponents, in large part assembled by students from the Gender Studies Department and the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), held various signs, linked arms and loudly chanted "our body, our choice" for hours.
The UC Berkeley campus also reportedly hosted a debate over abortion on Monday between University of San Francisco philosophy professor Raymond Dennehy and UC Berkeley Department of Public Health professor Malcolm Potts.
Nicholas Velasquez, a second-year student at UC Berkeley, told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that Berkeley's hosting of the traveling display was "especially meaningful" because Berkeley is considered the birthplace of the free speech movement in the 1960's.
"The display incited honest debate and rational argument, even in spite of the protesters who attempted to block access and hinder communication by shouting slogans," said Velasquez.
Berkeley's administration defended the free speech rights of the pro-life display against critics objecting to its graphic nature.
Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard said that the school only holds such demonstrations to state and federal regulations on free speech, in addition to a requirement that it be sponsored by a campus-affiliated group. "We don't regulate content," he said, noting that the pro-choice activists were allowed to exercise the same right to free speech and assembly.
The GAP display evidently took by surprise area pro-abortion activists, who immediately gathered support to push back against the display.
"Seemingly out of nowhere, a horribly ugly assault on women and reproductive rights is happening right now at UC Berkeley," wrote an anonymous contributor to the liberal San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center on Tuesday.
According to the contributor, local pro-abortion activists "were texting everyone they know to get down to the campus, where they formed a line & locked arms in front of these creeps, chanting 'Our bodies, Our choice' for hours."
"People hurried to bring signs they had at hand - 'Abortion Doctors Are Heroes' - enlargements of a Revolution newspaper centerfold, 'A Fetus Is Not A Baby' - and joined in," the writer noted. "The situation was very tense."
CBR's Robert Fletcher reported that the "vigorous" counter-protest was highly beneficial for conveying the message of the display.
"It was awesome, because it attracted an enormous amount of attention to the display," wrote Fletcher. "While they chanted, we engaged thousands and thousands of students with the images of abortion. Several hundreds wanted to talk about abortion with our crack team of pro-life apologists!"
Popular pro-life blogger Jill Stanek called the event "a landmark day for abortion awareness," as it marked the end of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform's struggle to show the Project on the extremely liberal campus.
"The 1st hurdle was getting a brave student to sponsor GAP, which after years and years CBR finally did in Alberto Gonzalez, president of Berkeley Students for Life," wrote Stanek. But the bigger hurdle, she said, was the Berkeley administration itself - Stanek said she had been privy to a long string of "hardball legal wrangling between CBR and Berkeley."
CBR director Gregg Cunningham pointed out the irony that the Obama-themed display was hosted on the same Plaza that once saw a huge celebration of President Obama's inauguration.
"We are about to host a very different sort of Obama event on Sproul Plaza," Cunningham wrote the day before the display was unveiled.
"Same audience, same subject, different message."