More than 250 students gathered in Reynolds Club on Tuesday night to protest a bill that would restrict the application of funds allocated for student use toward abortion procedures. The bill, which was voted on by College Council (CC) later Tuesday night, failed to pass. Most students present at Reynolds Club were opposed to the bill.
The bill failed by a vote of one to 15 with no abstentions. The bill’s author, fourth-year Brett Barbin, a CC Class Representative and outgoing president of College Republicans, cast the only vote in support of the bill.
The bill would have prohibited the expenditure of any CC–authorized funds toward abortion, except in cases where rape, incest, or the danger of death of the pregnant person was involved. The text of the bill argues that “students should not be financially compelled to violate their sincerely-held moral beliefs” against the procedure.
The proposal comes after a week of national debate over the passage of several state laws placing strict restrictions on abortions. Last Tuesday, Alabama outlawed nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest. The only exceptions are cases in which the mother’s life is at serious risk. Last Friday, Missouri passed a bill barring all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected—it is the latest of five states this year to pass this type of “heartbeat bill.”
Barbin stated in the proposal that the impetus for the bill came from a May 16 Facebook post by Student Government (SG) president-elect Jahne Brown promoting The Emergency Fund. The Emergency Fund provides aid to marginalized students in emergency situations that cause a significant financial burden, including for reproductive health issues like abortion. The Fund is a part of SG and has received donations from CC. The Fund received $1,000 of extra funding unspent by CC at the conclusion of the academic year.
College Council receives its funding from Student Government, whose money partially derives from student life fees. The Emergency Fund may fund abortions as part of its mission to support students in financial need under extenuating circumstances. The bill would have blocked any money from student life fees from funneling through SG, CC, and into the Emergency Fund.
Brown said that although the Emergency Fund has not funded any abortions this school year, “we do fund abortions, and we will always fund abortions.”
The website of the University bursar states that “the fees make it possible for Campus and Student Life to offer a robust array of student support services. A portion of the student services fee is administered directly by students through Student Governing to fund Recognized Student Organizations and other student-driven activities and programs.”
The proposed bill also stated that using these funds for abortion goes against what Student Health Services (SHS) has published as the use of student life fees, which includes “contraception consultations,” but not abortions explicitly.
During the assembly, Barbin defended the bill and brought along several students to speak in support of the bill.
One of them, first-year Christina Pirrotta, said, “The most underrepresented minority today are unborn children.”
Many attendees at the assembly spoke up against the bill. Second-year Marissa Igunbor, who identified as a survivor of sexual assault and a board member of Phoenix Survivors Alliance, said, “If I can’t pull my government funding from funding Viagra, then you can’t tell me that I have to have a child, because if it’s God’s will to have a baby, then it’s God’s will for men to have limp penises.”
Protesters against the bill appeared outside of McCormick Lounge where the vote took place holding signs with slogans such as “My choice not uchoose” and “Defund College Republicans.” In a statement to The Maroon, Barbin said he was not acting on behalf of College Republicans when proposing and defending the bill.
One unidentified protester of the bill threw an egg at a group of counterprotesters on the stairs inside the northern entrance to Reynolds Club. No one was hit.
University of Chicago Police Department officers were stationed in Reynolds Club to monitor the situation. Several officers stood at the door of McCormick Lounge.
While the crowd outside McCormick Lounge remained calm overall as the meeting went on, at times the protestors and other students, who were unable to enter the lounge before it filled to capacity, broke out in chants such as “My body, my choice.” The chants became so loud that it became difficult to hear speakers inside the College Council meeting.
Third-year Christina Stebbins got the crowd’s attention and spoke in opposition to what she called “forced-birth extremist views.”
“Personally, I think this is kind of bullshit,” she told the crowd. “Not only is this an attack on people with uteruses,” she continued, adding that attempts to restrict access to abortion are a specific attack “that this country is making on people who can’t afford to go out of their state to go get an abortion.”
After Stebbins finished speaking, an unidentified male counterprotester repeatedly yelled, “You’re a whore,” and accused her of killing babies.
Stebbins stepped forward and addressed him. The counterprotester didn’t respond and soon walked away. She later told The Maroon that she was trying “to calm [the situation] down so [she] could have a direct conversation with [the counterprotester].”
Afterward, a man who identified himself as pro-life voiced opposition to the counterprotester’s epithet, but received mostly admonitions from pro-choice members of the crowd.
The response outside of the lounge when the bill failed was excited, with students clapping and cheering.
Student Government posted on Facebook expressing their opposition to the bill, asking students to gather at Reynolds Club to speak out against the bill, which they said would “seriously undermine reproductive rights on campus.” They also livestreamed footage of the vote on Facebook.
Oren Oppenheim contributed reporting.
Correction on May 27, 2019, 6:08 p.m. CDT:
A quote was previously misattributed to Brett Barbin. The article has been updated to attribute the quote to Christina Pirrotta.