Students for Life event sparks protests on campus



Isabel Brown (left) and Kristan Hawkins (right) present “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe” in the Strafford room at UNH on 4/18/23.

Melanie Matts and Kaylin Moriarty

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life America (SFLA), made her way to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) this past Tuesday, the thirteenth stop on her “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe” spring 2023 tour.

Accompanied by special guest Isabel Brown, a spokesperson for Turning Point USA, both were welcomed to the Memorial Union Building (MUB) Strafford room by a raucous parade of student protestors. 

The event, “Lies Pro-Choicers Believe,” sparked attention earlier this week when the university received backlash for hosting a pro abortion rights event, “Cupcakes & Choice” on the same day as UNH’s Students for Life (SFL) club’s anti-abortion event. 

Cupcakes & Choice is an event being held through the university’s Health & Wellness department. Originally scheduled for Tuesday evening, it was postponed to Friday, April 21 “to avoid any perception that the university opposed a student event,” Erika Mantz, UNH’s executive director for media relations told the NHJournal

Dawn Zitney, a wellbeing educator and counselor at Health & Wellness said that Cupcakes & Choice was organized as a response to student concerns around the SFL event.

“The moment that the Students for Life org had put out their event, we started to get emails, students concerned about the information that was going to be provided,” Zitney said. “As health educators, as medical providers, part of our mission is to provide students opportunities to get accurate information so that they can make informed choices about their bodies.”

Hawkins and Brown began the event by opening the floor to audience members for a Q&A. While the Q&A was meant to be an introduction to their presentation, students continuously lined up behind the podium ready to rattle off questions, comments and concerns to the presenters. 

Students lined up to ask Brown and Hawkins questions prior to their presentation. (Kaylin Moriarty)

As Hawkins and Brown took turns firing back answers to students, majority of whom acknowledged their pro abortion rights viewpoint at the podium, the Strafford room echoed with the voices and sounds of protestors outside the doorway. 

“My body, my choice,” barged its way through the door as people came and went from the event.  

Trombones blared the hallway leading into the Strafford room playing UNH’s well known cheer, “I believe in UNH,” one that is often chanted at sporting events. However, Tuesday night’s rhythm was met with new lyrics: “I believe that I have a choice.”

Olivia Krick, a first-year at UNH commented on why they chose to protest.

“I came out because I found out about it like a half hour before and it’s something that I care about,” Krick said. “And I didn’t feel like I could just sit here and not do anything, when I noticed something accessible and right here and a way for me to actively participate in a cause that I care about on campus.”

Students protested outside the Strafford room during Students for Life event. (Kaylin Moriarty)

As the noise outside of the Strafford room doors grew louder, audience members inside the event became frustrated. 

Sylvie Butler, a community member who discovered the event on the New Hampshire Right to Life Instagram page, expressed disappointment in the way the event was handled. 

“I am appalled at the behavior of the students and the behavior of the police who are allowing this, this kind of intimidation and violence,” said Butler. “I heard a speech before this evening by the MUB director who said it was her job to ensure free speech, and that didn’t happen tonight.”

At the beginning of the events, MUB Director, Melissa Beecher went over UNH’s protocols and policies around protesting on campus.

“Members of our community have a right to gather, invite guests, share ideas and express opinions without interference or censorship,” Beecher said. “Disrupting a presentation or speaker, obstructing people from participating in, or hearing an event or otherwise preventing an event from proceeding as planned is not permitted.”

Beecher commented after the event sharing how MUB staff worked hard to ensure a balance between protestors and audience members while working with the UNH Police Department on site at the event. 

“The ultimate decision was that while the protestors were making noise, both speakers could be heard clearly throughout the room, so the protest could continue,” Beecher said.

Throughout the event, many asked questions regarding abortion rights in cases of sexual assault, rape and incest.

“Our position is never to diminish the pain and trauma that the victim of rape and incest have experienced in being on the receiving end of somebodies evil, violent, criminal behavior,” Brown said. “The answer to trauma is never more trauma at the end of the day. A women or child even who has experienced rape or incest is dealing with trauma, and the answer is not to pile on a higher likelihood of anxiety, depression or suicide in dealing with the guilt of ending a innocent human beings life that is receiving the death penalty for a crime that they had nothing to do with.”

One student questioned back, “What happens if the mother will die if they are carrying that child, that they did not voluntarily conceive?”

“I would consult a pro-life OBGYN first of all, to see what your unique circumstances are,” Hawkins responded. “And if you were to become pregnant as a result of sexual assault, which is pretty rare in the first place, if that terrible circumstance were to happen, there’s usually a conversation with the patient who has the disease, who cannot carry to term, and the doctor.”

“The goal is to help you to sustain your life, and the child’s life for as long as possible, until it becomes too risky for you to remain pregnant any longer,” continued Brown. “And then they would induce.. either have you naturally give birth, or they would operate and do a C-section on you.”

The Q&A portion lasted just shy of two hours. Students relentlessly made their way to the podium to question both Hawkins and Brown, and they made sure to question students back. 

One of the UNH students who took to the podium was Brecken Tozier. Tozier was inspired to speak after hearing about the event and doing some research on Hawkins and Brown and their previous SFLA events. 

Brecken Tozier addresses presenters at the podium. (Kaylin Moriarty )

“I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on these topics, so I wanted to do what I could do,” said Tozier. “And also coming from the perspective of someone who’s not a woman, but still has a uterus and has the ability to get pregnant, having one of the top 10 lies that they were listing, one of them said men can’t get pregnant, that was frustrating for me to see the blatant transphobia there.”

Tozier returned to the podium a number of times throughout the evening, and expressed that they often felt frustrated hearing Hawkins and Brown’s responses. 

“As much as I don’t like that these people go around doing these talks and stuff, I can understand that the school can’t necessarily say they can’t be here, but it was that these people have a history of transphobia and they actively were being transphobic towards students at this event, “ Tozier explained. “It was really frustrating for a lot of people that the university was allowing that, especially with how much the school preaches inclusivity.”

Following the Q&A, Hawkins and Brown sped through their presentation, “Top 10 Lies Pro-Choicers Believe” in a matter of 15 minutes. The presentation was met with applause from most audience members, while the protest outside went into an uproar.  

They concluded their presentation by encouraging students to continue conversations around abortion at their universities, and stuck around afterwards to answer any other questions anyone had. 

Becca Liguori, a previous youth minister from Newmarket, expressed a similar hope for continued dialogue on university campuses as she was leaving the event.  

“I’ve graduated from college, I have a master’s degree, I work at a school, I love academics, I love academia, I think it’s so important that we be able as a society to have calm peaceful conversations about these issues,” said Liguori. “I worry about that on our college campuses, because of the protesters not even willing to come in and just talk. I just hope that this kind of event sparks that, not more hate and not more divisions, but that it sparks dialogue.”

Katelyn Regan, president of UNH’s SFL organization, said she thought the event had a great turnout but expected more of the protestors to come inside to hear Hawkins and Brown speak. 

“I think that the turnout was great. I think that the people who did attend, most of them were very respectful, most of them were wonderful, especially with the questions they were asking,” Regan said. “I would have loved to see more people show, but it is really hard to advertise on a campus that is so hostile.”