‘I was starting to panic:’ Anti-abortion group garners fear, anger from WSU students

Please note that some aspects of the story and gallery below could be triggering.

Wichita State student Claire Kennard said it was a shock to walk out of class and see anti-abortion protesters lining the campus sidewalks with graphic signs. The musical theater major said it brought back many traumatic memories. 

“My heart was pounding out of my chest,” Kennard said. “When I got to the RSC, I was starting to panic.”

On Friday, March 3, protesters from Free the States and others were on Wichita State’s main campus to “educate college students.” Group members deem themselves “abolitionists,” with the goal to abolish and criminalize abortion in the United States. 

“College campuses are places where you really need to go to try to change people’s minds and hearts,” Russell Hunter, executive director at Free the States, said. 

Hunter differentiated Free the States from pro-life groups, saying that they believe in the immediate abolition of abortion, not its regulation.

“Laws against murder should apply equally to all humans,” Hunter said. “The thing protecting you from being murdered should also protect the (fetus) to the best of the ability.”

Protesters held posters with imagery meant to spark discussion about abortion. They also handed out pamphlets and stopped students on their way to class to talk with them. 

“(It’s) emotionally really hard to get to my next class,” Kennard said. “Every single protester coming up and offering a pamphlet …  was a little scary.”

The protest at Wichita State’s campus was part of a series of conference events throughout the week. The day before, March 2, the group protested in downtown Wichita

The conference was titled “Bleeding Kansas,” referencing the period of unrest between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in Kansas. 

Musical theater student Tim Hampton said, as a Black man, it hurts to see protesters compare abortion to slavery. 

“I talked to a man who basically said that slavery and abortion are the same thing,” Hampton said. 

A rape survivor, Kennard said the protesters lacked empathy for survivors of traumatic experiences like herself, as well as knowledge on abortion.

“I understand that it’s supposed to be an emotional ‘got ya’ moment and catch you off guard,” Kennard said. “But for me, it just reminds me of my past …. experiences.”

Hampton said he believes that the protesters were not handling themselves appropriately, and it felt like a “militia” was present on campus. 

“When you are showing graphic images of bloody fetuses with all your children around … first of all the kids should be in school,” Hampton said. 

Many passing students threw remarks of frustration at the protesters. 

“What’s funny is they always say we are yelling from a press point of view. It’ll be like ‘these people came on campus and yelled,’ but really it is the students,” Hunter said. “I’ve been told to go to hell out here, so it’s who do you think is yelling to go to hell? Us or you?” 

During the protest, some students and faculty even offered to walk individuals to class to make them feel safer.

“The (protesters) are very obtuse and brain dead and not really willing to listen to anything but then will heckle at us and call us stupid for not having intelligent conversations with them,” Hampton said.