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The liberal professor who stepped right into an anti-abortion trap

March 31, 2014|Robin Abcarian

You want a recipe for confrontation?

Take a bunch of graphic photos of aborted fetuses onto a University of California campus -- or maybe any college campus -- and watch the fireworks.

Emotions can run high when liberal college students debate the morality of abortion with religious evangelical opponents. Especially when the parties are standing next to grotesque, bloody photographs of human remains.

Bringing those posters onto college campuses is a deliberate act of provocation on the part of youthful anti-abortion ministries such as Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. (Your mother got pregnant after the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion, so you are a “survivor” -- get it?)

But none of that can excuse the actions of a UC Santa Barbara associate professor who, along with some of her students, appears to have walked off with a big, poster-sized photo of an aborted fetus in early March because, as she later told campus police, she felt “'triggered’ in a negative way by the imagery.”

(More on the concept of “triggering,” as it's understood by UC Santa Barbara students here.)

Mireille Miller-Young, who teaches in the UCSB Feminist Studies department, did not just do her students, and herself, a giant disfavor when she disregarded our great tradition of free speech in the very place you expect it to be respected most -- a college campus.

She gave Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust a publicity boon beyond their wildest dreams when she walked off with their poster, then scuffled a few minutes later with a 16-year-old abortion protester.

The protester, Thrin Short, claimed she was scratched by Miller-Young during their elevator skirmish, which was caught (badly, and with explicit language) on videotape.

On March 21, the Santa Barbara Independent, which has been on the story from the beginning, reported that the Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office charged Miller-Young with misdemeanor counts of theft, battery and vandalism. She is to be arraigned on Friday.

You are a sucker, Prof. Miller-Young.

And you’ve got to be incredibly insulated not to grasp that any act of aggression, however minor, against an anti-abortion protester is going to be blown into a national story by the anti-abortion political-industrial complex and its media partners.

This National Review Online piece, for instance, denigrates a perfectly apt defense of free speech emailed to UCSB students by vice chancellor for student affairs Michael D. Young  because he failed to get into the specifics of the Miller-Young incident, an ongoing criminal case.

But Young's memo is sensitive and valid: Although abortion protesters have every right to bring their message to UCSB, he notes, they are pushing the boundaries of decency with their graphic images of dismembered, aborted fetuses. Some students do experience “outrage, pain, embarrassment, fear, hurt and feelings of harassment” when they see such pictures.

Presumably, the shock value is the whole point. After all, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust consider abortion to be "America's genocide" and consider themselves, by dint of their age,  "the target" of those who believe women should be able to exercise the legal right to control their own reproductive fates. 

Reactions like Miller-Young’s are what anti-abortion ministries pray for. A professor gone (slightly) wild helps generate attention and sympathy for folks who don’t really deserve it.

Miller-Young's hotheaded turn has allowed them to turn the real issue upside down. The real issue is the evangelical right wing’s war on reproductive freedom, not the theft of a gruesome poster.

Her foolish act, unfortunately, lets the fringe claim it's being infringed on.

Professor, I don't know what you're trying to teach your students, but disrespecting someone else's right to free expression, no matter how odious, is a very poor lesson indeed.

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More from Robin Abcarian

Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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