Posters depicting in utero fetuses raised eyebrows and a small uproar
last week. One of the posters, the second in a series created by
Harvard Right to Life (HRL), featured the picture of a fetus named
Elena with the words, “I’m 25 days old...and my heart already BEATS!!”
“The posters from this semester are getting torn down left and
right,” said HRL President Meghan E. Grizzle ’07. “Apparently people
find the picture of a fetus gruesome and I don’t understand why,
because we’re not showing pictures of an aborted fetus or a dead baby,”
Grizzle said. She added that HRL had to constantly replace the posters
that were removed from displays across campus.
A debate concerning the abortion posters raged over the
Cabot-open e-mail list after Ndidi N. Menkiti ’06 requested in an
e-mail that people stop defacing the posters.
“I had seen some posters ripped up and thrown on the ground on
the first floor of Cabot,” said Menkiti. “I felt it was an immature way
to react when you disagree with someone.”
The request triggered a long series of responses—finally
halted by an injunction from Cabot House Master and Wolfson Professor
of Jewish Studies Jay M. Harris.
But not all students who opposed the posters agreed with those who tore them down.
“I personally find the image disgusting and don’t want to walk
past it everyday,” said Nichele M. McClendon ’06, who said she did not
tear down any posters. “It doesn’t have to do with abortion as an issue
or free speech; it’s about being decent and not being disgusting.”
Jamie R. Smith ’08, who participated in the e-mail exchange,
said in a phone interview that she felt the combination of a shocking
picture and controversial message made the posters disagreeable to
students. However, she felt that groups have the freedom to poster
about causes that are important to them.
“That’s one thing I admire about HRL, because they’re out
there actively trying to change people’s opinions...which is what I
think activist groups should do,” said Smith.
Grizzle said that posters from previous semesters had been
torn down in far fewer numbers. Last semester HRL’s posters featured
different facts and quotes, including posters saying that abortion is
the number one cause of African American deaths surpassing AIDS and
The controversial posters came at a heated time during the
abortion debate. Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in the case
Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (NOW) that abortion
clinics could not block anti-abortion protests based on the argument
that the protesters were using extortion or racketeering.
The case originated in a lawsuit filed in 1986 by NOW against
Joseph Scheidler, the national director of the Pro-Life Action League.
The case drew public scrutiny because of its larger implications for freedom of speech issues.
“The courts, in dealing with demonstrators at clinics, have
obviously been trying to walk a fine line between impermissible
intimidation and permissible demonstrations,” said Frederick Schauer,
Stanton professor of the First Amendment at the Kennedy School of
Government. “I think it would be inconceivable in the US that people
could be totally prohibited from demonstrating near an abortion
Also in late February, South Dakota passed a bill in both
houses of legislature defying Roe v. Wade. The bill bans all abortions,
except in cases where the abortion would save the mother’s life. It
does not make any exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or non-lethal
maternal health concerns. Doctors who perform abortions in the state
could be fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in prison. The bill
now awaits ratification by Republican governor Mike Rounds, who is
expected to sign it. If the bill becomes law the Supreme Court would
likely hear the case.
When asked about the likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, Schauer was skeptical.
“Precedent is not easily overturned,” he said. “We don’t yet
have any particular indication that there are five justices on the
court that would overturn Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”
—Staff writer Joyce Y. Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.