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Feminist Alliance at odds with UT over clinic ads

By Lindsay Mahaney
On November 14, 2012

Members of the UT Feminist Alliance were angered last week after administrators altered their display in the Student Union accusing a local pregnancy center of false advertising.

The display, which was in a display case in the Student Union Building, included the words “This clinic lies to women” with an arrow pointing at an advertisement for free pregnancy tests offered by the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo. The Office of Student Involvement removed the arrow and the word “this.”

The Feminist Alliance says its free speech rights were violated, while Dean of Students Michele Martinez says the case is meant for displays with a “positive educational purpose” rather than “negative” messages.

The group is also arguing that the Pregnancy Center should not be allowed to advertise on campus, while the organization’s executive director called the Feminist Alliance’s allegations “completely false.”

UTFA Co-president Hillary Gyuras said the group was protesting because the Pregnancy Center does not properly advertise that it is against abortion. She said this could cause pregnant students to be influenced into making uninformed decisions.

“A student has the right to go to a clinic that will give them all their options and not pressure them into a decision they aren’t comfortable with,” she said.

Pregnancy Center Director Janet Bosserman said the assertions that the Pregnancy Center’s advertising is inaccurate are “completely false.”

“We provide free pregnancy tests — that’s what the advertising says,” Bosserman said. “I don’t really know what’s not factual about that.”

Bosserman declined to discuss the Feminist Alliance’s specific allegations about the center, saying nobody from the group has contacted the center with concerns.

“We’re a big service to UT students,” Bosserman said. “They’re very happy that we offer free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and that we care about them and that we talk to them and that we have a very welcoming place.”

Martinez said the display was altered after a student voiced concern.

Martinez said because the nature of the display was “negative,” she didn’t want the university to be responsible for that type of message.

“It could be considered censorship, but that’s not what I’m doing,” Martinez said. “I don’t ask to see students’ displays before they go up. Typically we just don’t have this problem.”

But Gyuras said UTFA didn’t break any rules.

“We feel like we were punished,” she said. “They couldn’t show us in the handbook where it broke a rule and they also couldn’t show us where it was allowed to take down the sign. We didn’t feel like it was a good enough justification.”

She said the alteration of the signs was a violation of UTFA’s First Amendment rights.

“The sign wasn’t hate speech; it didn’t start a riot,” Gyuras said.

Martinez said she is sorry if UTFA members were hurt by the way the situation was handled.

“I don’t think this is typical of what we would normally deal with,” Martinez said. “I don’t foresee us needing to OK all bulletin boards, but maybe that’s a recommendation that someone might have.”

The Student Senate on Tuesday passed a resolution backing the Feminist Alliance’s campaign to ban the Pregnancy Center and similar “crisis pregnancy centers” from advertising on campus.

“I can’t say everyone will support it,” said Clayton Notestine, the author of the resolution. “But I know, at least from what we can see with the resolution, nobody objected to it in Student Government and obviously the UTFA is for the resolution to go ahead and have the advertising removed.”

Martinez said while the university wants to consider student opinions, the ads will likely remain in the Student Union.

“We’re working with someone who is outside the institution that actually took money from that ad,” Martinez said. “I would assume there’s a contract that they’ve already paid and allotted a time to post that ad.”

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