Earlier this month, USC Students for Life displayed multiple banners featuring jumbo-sized photos of pregnant women and fetuses. On Trousdale Parkway lamp posts, the banners presented quotes praising “life” and facts about fetal development. This display from USC Students for Life was a propaganda dream. With official banners lining the university’s main causeway, not only was the message getting out, but it appeared to be a USC-sponsored cause.
Just a few hours after they were put up, the banners were taken down, but not before they were seen by hundreds of students on their way to and from morning classes. Allowing this display on campus, even for a brief period of time, was damaging, and the university must ensure that the mistake that allowed propaganda of this nature will not happen again.
After the removal of these posters, USC Students for Life argued that the university suppressed the group’s free speech. They are incorrect. USC Students for Life are permitted to spread their anti-abortion message literally anywhere else on campus. This is not systematic discrimination against them; it was just deemed inappropriate that a highly contentious issue was broadcast in an official manner in a location that usually features USC spirit banners.
Of course, the burning question that lingers in the minds of the pro-life students who organized this campaign is not really why their free speech was limited. It is actually more about why the banners were not deemed inappropriate in the first place.
Three-foot high banners with photos of fetuses, quotes implying that these fetuses are beautiful and special, and factoids that try to humanize a developing fetus are all emotionally manipulative ploys to guilt women into having children that they might not be emotionally, physically or financially ready for — and that they may not want.
The banners preach views entrenched in a narrow religious ideology and negate the idea that a woman’s mental, physical and financial health has value by asserting that giving birth is the most beautiful thing a woman can do.
None of the factoids expressed the variety of physical dangers involved with giving birth, including maternal death. These banners do not tell women that up to 80 percent of new mothers experience mood swings or feelings of depression after childbirth. They do not mention that 10 to 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression. There is no mention of birth-related post-traumatic stress disorder or postpartum psychosis, or the less dramatic, but equally important consideration of the financial struggle related to raising children.
The decision to have a child is arguably the most important decision a woman will ever have to make. This decision is even harder when the woman is a college student who might desire a child but lacks the resources to care for it. These decisions should not be influenced by a selection of intimidating images.
Though activist students made sure that the offensive material was taken down in little time, spreading a message that potentially isolates and demonizes students who choose to make difficult decisions about their own lives and bodies is inexcusable.
Trojan Events and Services needs to be more careful in its process of approving installations to ensure that no political ideology appears to be endorsed by the university ever again.