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Protesters, counter-protesters square off in middle of campus over abortion

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A chaotic scene unfolded in front of Whitehall on Thursday afternoon. Chanting demonstrators, campus security and hundreds of curious students packed onto the lawn between Whitehall and the Engineering Annex.

At about 1:30 p.m., loud rhythmic chanting coming from the lawn could be heard in nearby classroom buildings.

Around noon, activists organized by the Anti-Racist Action, UK Feminist Alliance and Queer Project arrived on the lawn where an anti-abortion demonstration had been set up since the morning.

The counter demonstration was, at first, uneventful. But when classes ended and students poured out onto the lawn, the protest gained more vigor.  

Some activists were seen pushing over signs depicting graphic images that the anti-abortion group had set up on the lawn.

The activists were protesting against Created Equal, a national anti-abortion group currently on a month-long tour through six states supporting the right to life, said Emma Mysko, the group's media representative.

Anti-Abortion Protest Whitehall

Student activists chant during the counter protest to national anti-abortion group, Created Equal's demonstration outside Whitehall Classroom building on Thursday, October 19, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Created Equal’s national director Mark Harrington said that the student’s response was typical for most college campuses.

“Everybody gets to say what they want to say and that’s what a university campus should be about,” Harrington said.

Created Equal’s demonstration included multiple graphic images of what they said was abortion footage from clinics. Mysko said the group travels to campuses just to start the conversation about abortion.

Sydney Tague, the president of the UK Feminist Alliance, said the images were fabricated and were emotionally distressing for women who have had abortions.

“Just walking up to this made me cry,” Tague said before the demonstration. “The sole purpose of this is just to disturb people and I think that’s not OK.”

Students in the crowd had varying opinions on the demonstration and counter-demonstration.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong going on,” said Scott DeMayo, a sophomore biology major present at the protest. “Obviously you can support whatever side you’re on. I just hope it doesn’t get too violent. There seems to be a lot of throwing signs and some pretty aggressive yelling.”

Jonathan Garner, a sophomore business finance major and pro-life advocate, approached the chanting activists mid-protest. Garner said he became upset when he saw the counter protestors blocking the anti-abortion demonstration.

“I go out there and I try and ask them a question and they just keep chanting in my face,” Garner said. “So I was like, ‘I’m really trying to ask you all a question. I’m trying to talk and I’m trying to debate,’ but they just keep chanting in my face. I lost my temper and I told them they were sick. That’s just messed up. You shouldn’t be aborting children.”

Adrianne Rogers, an environmental science senior, was seen being pursued by UKPD after she pushed over anti-abortion signs. Rogers said she considered the anti-abortion signs to be hate speech.

“To see such incorrect scientific information displayed at a public university is just absolutely awful,” Rogers said. “I can’t believe that that’s allowed to happen at a public university, because this isn’t really free speech. This is hate speech.”