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When the impact of a protest harms others, where is the line drawn?

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To the Editor,

Last month a national anti-abortion group made its rounds across North Carolina, stopping at multiple college campuses, including the seminary in Wake Forest directly opposite Wake Forest High School promoting their “Genocide Awareness Project.”

Their message included 30-year-old questionable graphic images, as well as posters which equated doctors who perform abortions to Nazis, and pamphlets which compared abortions to the Holocaust and lynching.

While protest in general is often meant to create discomfort, there is a responsibility to balance freedom of speech with the harm it may cause others. Shaming women and doctors, ignoring their lived experiences, and making inflammatory comparisons to lynching, slavery and genocide conjure up traumatic hurt and toxic stress for many, which often has nothing to do with abortion but instead with racism and xenophobia they may have experienced, or with difficult medical situations, including miscarriage. These types of protests are especially harmful in the vicinity of preschools and K-12 schools. Effective protests are ones which create a message that the listener can hear, not ones which traumatize or close down thought.

The majority of Americans believe safe and legal access to abortion is a necessary function of health care today. Allowing government interference in any personal medical decision is dangerous, and criminalizing doctors and women who are faced with difficult choices will create an unsafe black market for anyone not privileged enough to travel for a safe abortion.

This is not the first time this group has toured North Carolina, but hopefully it will be the last. Those empowered to impose guidelines which allow respectful and civil protests would be wise to make changes now to ensure that.

Jennifer Rudolph

Wake Forest