This week and next, RH Reality Check is featuring a series of articles by Robin Marty on Human Life Alliance’s ad campaign targeted at spreading misinformation about sex and reproduction to college students. Here, Meghan Shalvoy, a student at Stony Brook University in New York and President of Feminist Majority’s Leadership Alliance on campus, writes about her experiences organizing against the HLA campaign and offers suggestions to others.
Like every organizer and activist, I have often found myself
wondering if what I’m doing really matters. Recently I’ve come up with my own
personal litmus test for success: If each campaign I work on or cause I
contribute my time and effort to helps to inform one person, open one mind, or
expand access for just one more individual, then it has been worth it.
last semester at Stony Brook University, I was gearing up to begin an
informational campaign and petition about local crisis pregnancy centers,
which advertise weekly in our primary campus newspaper The Statesman. In the
very same week that I was considering forgoing the campaign in the interest of
my grades, the Human Life Alliance advertising pamphlet “icare”
surfaced in every copy of The Statesman on October 8. It was an immediate and
steadfast reminder that learning doesn’t end at a classroom door, and some
things are more important than your GPA.
Featuring articles on such anti-choice myths as
“post-abortive” stress disorder, the “link” between abortion and breast cancer,
and “reproductive racism,” the pamphlet’s recyclable soy-ink paper and
magazine-like style was specifically designed to appeal to and manipulate
college age women.
Not surprisingly, it leaves no room for women who are
satisfied or comfortable with their decision to terminate a pregnancy, and only
pressures them to feel shame and regret. Over the next few weeks, with the help
of my spectacular mentor and fellow Stony Brook feminists, I wrote a petition and
developed a fact
sheet to help inform students of the dangerous misinformation in the
supplement. Although I’m personally disturbed by any attempt to impede access
to comprehensive reproductive health care, I felt the more important issue to
focus on for my campus community was the junk science being disseminated by the
newspaper of a world-renowned research university.
If women were to use this “advertisement” as a reliable
source of information, they could be acting in ways harmful to their own health
and well-being. I have taken several journalism courses, and this scenario is
fundamentally against the most basic journalistic principles. The week that my
friends and I began to circulate the petition, The Statesman printed a
statement about their decision to run the ad, defending the separation between
advertising and editorial staff in the interest of journalistic integrity. They
did not make any attempt to address, however, that they had essentially
endorsed blatant anti-choice propaganda lacking any consideration of the truth
or integrity they were professing to uphold.
The ad had stirred up quite a bit of buzz and several other
campus publications printed
the ad and the petition. A couple weeks ago, I was finally putting together the
petition—with 165 signatures!—when I received a copy of a letter written by
the Long Island Coalition for Life (LICL) to the editors of one of those
publication, The Stony Brook Press. Instead of defending the pamphlet that they
paid to have distributed, LICL attacked my own personal character and
questioned my right to organize within my campus community. They even went as
far as to find my MySpace page, using it to further attack my position as an
intern with Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. They went on to make outrageous
accusations against Planned Parenthood, which—everything else aside—has nothing
to do with their use of lies and manipulation to further their anti-choice
agenda at the expense of Stony Brook students’ health. Thankfully, the editors
of The Press allowed me to write a
response, which they published alongside the LICL letter on December
So far, we have heard nothing from The Statesman in
reference to the petition. I’m about to graduate in a few days, but I’m
confident that my Fabulous Fellow Feminists from the Stony Brook Feminist
Majority Leadership Alliance will continue the campaign when they return in the
spring, and I fully plan to come back to campus to meet with their editorial
staff. At this point, I can only hope that this petition has lead at least one
person to question anti-choice literature, informed one person about the health
and counseling services available on campus, or inspired one person to start a
campaign on their own campus. Get involved now, and make yourself proud—because
women’s health matters.
A few tips on starting a campaign on your campus:
Make sure you’re petitioning the right people.
Do some research on the administration and take issue with the person/people
who have the authority to implement the change you seek. (Or become that
Get online! Use tools like change.org to host your petition
online and spread the word with Facebook events and Tweets. Almost half of our
petition signatures were obtained online.
Offer an alternative to the information and
services offered by CPCs and anti-choice propaganda. Include ways to access
these alternatives on/near your campus community, including counseling services
and religious perspectives.
(Editor’s note: A correction has been made to change the name of the group to Human Life Alliance, which was mistakenly called Human Life International in the original version.)