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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Abortion discussion organized by Federalist Society attracts pro-choice protesters

Society members call TUPD in response to disruption by protesters.

A protester is pictured holding a sign outside the Alumnae Lounge on Sept. 29.

A protester is pictured outside the Alumnae Lounge on Sept. 29.

Editor’s note: João Ribeiro is an opinion columnist at the Daily. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

The Federalist Society chapter at Tufts called TUPD in response to a pro-choice protest at a discussion event on the morality of abortion on Sept. 29. The two speakers at the event, Harvard law professor Stephen Sachs and Boston College philosophy professor Gregory Fried, were invited by FedSoc to discuss pro-life and pro-choice views.

When the event “Is Abortion Morally Justified in America?” began at 5:30 p.m., protesters moved inside the venue.

The front-row seats were filled by protesters who frequently interrupted the speakers during the beginning of the event. One held a sign which read “I love abortions.” Another held a noise machine which played continuous sounds of cars honking, dogs barking, doorbells ringing, wolves howling and crowds booing.

In response to the speakers’ difficulty talking over the noise, FedSoc members called TUPD, and an officer entered the room at 5:51 p.m.

In a statement to the Daily, FedSoc wrote, “As a non-partisan public policy and legal organization on campus, we are devoted to fostering respectful discourse and dialogue. Unfortunately, some students seem to disagree with our goals, and sought to disrupt our event on Friday night. In accordance with university policy, we asked for the assistance of TUPD in taming the disruptions, which the responding officers did effectively.

Representatives for the Tufts chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action told the Daily that the disruptive protesters are not affiliated with their group

The noise machine was turned off by the front-row protester at 5:54 p.m., but disruption continued. The officer’s requests to stop disruptions were ignored by shouts in the audience until a second officer arrived at 6:13 p.m. TUPD did not leave the venue until the end of the event.

“We respect the right to peacefully protest,” João Ribeiro, FedSoc co-president said. “At the same time, we acknowledge that we’re at a liberal arts college and a big part of that is critical thinking, is to hear different ideas.”

The protest was organized by the Tufts chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, who posted on Instagram, “Join us outside Alumnae Lounge at 5pm, September 29th with signs to peacefully protest this event.”

Protesters expressed their frustration that the speakers, unaffected by abortion law, should not have the power to promote speculation about abortion morality on campus.

“I’m protesting today because I don’t think white men should be making decisions about my reproductive rights,” Sanya Desai, a sophomore, said.

Desai continued to describe the nature of abortion rights as a topic of discussion.

“I’m hoping that this [protest] will just help people to realize that abortion rights are not something that are up for debate, or not something that should be talked about in a devil’s advocate type [of] way,” Desai said. “It’s something that’s deeply personal and that shouldn’t just be joked about or talked about for the sake of it.”

Though there were no female speakers, Ribeiro stated that none of the women that FedSoc contacted to speak were available.

“We reached out to over 20 different women from across the state in different levels of academia, let it be philosophy, public health or political science,” Ribeiro said. “We actually reached out to Tufts groups, including Planned Parenthood [Generation Action], … in the spring and they failed to respond to our email.

For their part, the co-presidents of the chapter say they never received an invitation to speak at the discussion event, as email invitations were not directed to the co-presidents but to a separate individual.

Along with Desai, other protesters said Tufts’ acceptance of an event which questioned the moral validity of abortion disappointed them.

“I think it’s just important to show as a community that this is not something that we stand for,” sophomore Calli Recck said.

One FedSoc member, James Kasparyan, who told the Daily he is pro-choice, suspected the protestors might have mischaracterized the group’s intentions.

“It’s really a discussion about [abortion rights] in general and to hear both sides,” Kasparyan said. “We expect them to come from varying positions and we hope that they at least either hear something they haven’t thought about before, or their own ideas are reinforced in some way.” Kasparyan said.

When introducing his views, Fried acknowledged the controversy and spoke about his qualifications to discuss abortion morality.

I am an American citizen, and I do vote. And I believe that we all have to weigh in on decisive and divisive questions in this country,” Fried said. 

Sachs commented on the protesters’ actions and the role of his identity.

“It’s a great disservice to prevent others from taking part in that even in the course of hearing two other people debate. I don’t think it matters whether the two of us are both men. I don't think it matters whether the two of us are both white,” Sachs said. “I don’t think any of that makes us unable to discuss, even if it means that there’s certain features of experience that we lack the same kind of access to.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that representatives of the Tufts chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action told the Daily that the disruptive protesters are not affiliated with their group; additionally, the representatives say they never received an invitation to speak at the discussion event, as email invitations were not directed to the co-presidents but to a separate individual.