Protesters push back against pro-life speaker event at UC Berkeley

A tent set up outside Dwinelle Hall with planned parenthood signs
Anna Bakh/Courtesy

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Four protesters, several UCPD officers and one anti-abortion speaker were among the faces visible at a pro-life speaker event hosted by Berkeley Students for Life, or BSL, on April 4.

The event, attended by 80 to 90 audience members, was BSL’s largest of the semester and was held at the UC Berkeley Alumni House. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America and a former member of President Donald Trump’s Pro-Life Advisory Council, was the main speaker at the event and frequently tours schools to “demonstrate lies” regarding the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion and birth control. The event was held after one week of public Facebook posts from nonstudents ordering the event to shut down.

“My goal is to get people who don’t agree with me in the room because I want them to listen to my reasons and disagree with me and ask me questions,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins was assigned a police security detail before the event, according to UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Nicolas Hernandez. When the event started, a protester walked to the front of the room carrying a coat hanger. Every five to 10 minutes afterward, another protester would walk to the front of the room with a coat hanger, until there were four total, according to BSL co-Presidents Daniel Frise, a campus sophomore, and Tamika Bassman, a campus senior.

Frise and Bassman made the decision to call UCPD after Hawkins’ film crew and audience members expressed discomfort concerning the protesters.  When six to seven UCPD officers arrived, the event had reached the question and answer segment, so the officers stationed themselves throughout the room so that the audience would feel safer, according to Frise.

We appreciate that they didn’t do something more destructive. We can’t condone that they brought in dangerous objects against our prohibited object list, but we appreciated (that) they didn’t speak over Kristan,” Bassman said. “We’re trying to open up dialogue, not close it.”

On the same day as the event, BSL tabled next to Dwinelle Hall with five stand-alone posters and 600 crosses to represent the average number of daily abortions conducted by Planned Parenthood.

Though about 100 people came to engage with and listen to BSL, according to Frise and Bassman, the exhibit was vandalized by students who walked through the crosses, kicking and pouring coffee over them, and by one person who stole a banner and proceeded to throw it in Strawberry Creek. When one BSL member filmed and followed the suspect, the latter attempted to hit the BSL member with their skateboard, damaging the front of the display.

I hope we can continue to have these conversations … I’m trying to get people to talk about abortion. The worst thing that can happen is people refuse to talk about the issue,” Hawkins said. “My hope is that Berkeley continues to have this discussion and bring in diverse speakers.”

Alexandra Casey is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @acasey_dc.