Students who attempted to hand out fliers near last week’s Bama Students for Life anti-abortion protest on the Quad were told by a police officer to stop or be arrested, said Samaria Johnson, the incoming president of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual & Reproductive Justice.
After learning about the Genocide Awareness Project-sponsored protest, the AASRJ applied for a grounds use permit in order to pass out fliers in response to the display. The AASRJ applied for the grounds use permit the same day they started passing out fliers.
“No one had adequate warning about the GAP’s display until the afternoon before it arrived,” said Johnson, a sophomore majoring in history and French.
“A handful of us stood in front of the GAP’s display or nearby to hand them out, and for about an hour we did this freely without interference from either the GAP or the police officers,” Johnson said.
After that hour, Johnson said, things went south after someone made a complaint about the content of their fliers.
“A woman received one of our fliers,” Johnson said. “She then complained to a nearby officer that it was obscene, and our members passing out fliers were approached by an officer and told to stop under threat of arrest.”
Johnson said more officers arrived and moved to arrest two AARSJ members, but after one of them explained the situation, both members were let go.
“We were then warned,” Johnson said, “Without a grounds permit, any member distributing fliers as part of AARSJ would be arrested.”
Johnson sent the Crimson White the text of the “obscene” flier.
“You cannot stop abortion by making it illegal. Each year 47,000 women die as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. Closing clinics kills women. http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/abortion-WW/index.html,” the flier read. “Why not address the issues that cause unintended pregnancy? Many women have unintended pregnancies because they lack access to reliable contraceptive methods. Oppose legislation that would allow employers to refuse contraceptive access to their employees! Ask the University of Alabama to make condoms available free of make condoms available free of charge at the Student Health Center, charge at the Student Health Center, the Ferguson Center, and in all residence halls.”
Courtney Pixler, president of Bama Students For Life, said the process of applying for a grounds permit is simple and allows for the right to free speech.
“Bama Students For Life followed University policy when applying for permission to host Genocide Awareness Project,” Pixler said. “We submitted our grounds use permit application for GAP on March 11, 2013. We had a meeting with the grounds office and various university personnel to discuss the logistics of GAP. On April 1, 2013 we received a letter informing us that our event request was approved. The process of applying for a grounds permit is simple, and we thoroughly enjoyed working with the grounds office.”
But Johnson said the length of time between applying for and receiving a grounds permit limits protests that develop spontaneously and organically.
“Obviously UA Facilities is not at fault here for the near-arrest of our counter protesters or the rejection of the grounds permit we filed that same day, but we gave the perfect example of protest developing spontaneously and organically,” she said. “We weren’t filing to host Quidditch on the Quad or film the Harlem Shake; we were responding to a very real issue that demanded direct, immediate address. I think that’s key: no one wants any kind of battle to break out on campus.”
University of Alabama media relations did not respond to questions by press time.