Divided by pro-life and pro-choice, over 30 student protesters confronted each other with chants in front of the Tampa Library for an hour and a half Wednesday afternoon to show their stances on abortion.
The Tampa Bay chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society summoned people with flyers posted around campus and on social media to protest HB 167, also known as the Heartbeat Act bill — which would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — that was filed in the Florida House of Representatives on Sept. 22. About 20 minutes into the protest, the USF Students for Life, a pro-life student organization, showed up to counterprotest.
Ellie Levesque, who was in the pro-choice group, said the group wanted to bring awareness to the bill, mobilize people to take action against it and hold legislators accountable.
“People can call and email their legislators every single day if they would like to. It’s really necessary,” Levesque said. “We need to remember that our legislators work for us. We pay their bills, so we need to hold them accountable.”
When the pro-life organization found out about the plans of the protest, members decided to counterprotest, according to Eric Simon, USF Students for Life president.
“We believe that abortion is murder, that life begins at conception and ends at natural death,” Simon said. “[We] wanted to come and stand for those who have no voice because the children who are being aborted are being murdered. They don’t have a voice. No one is speaking up for them. So we want to be their voice.”
The appearence of the pro-life group wasn’t a surprise for the pro-choice protesters, according to Levesque. After an hour and half, with a smaller crowd, the pro-life group left and the pro-choice supporters cheered and scattered.
University Police (UP) was present at the protest. Sgt. Ed Lutz said someone called to warn that the demonstration could potentially get violent. However, he said protesters peacefully expressed their opinions.
UP stayed during the protest “to make sure people can go into the library and that people here can express whatever opinion they want.”
The university’s Events Response Team was also present to ensure protesters didn’t violate university policy. Mike Severy, director of the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and member of the support team, said whenever there is a protest on campus, the team shows up to support students in their right to protest safely on campus.
The support team intervenes when there is physical contact, a threat to the safety of individuals or when there is hate speech, according to Severy. During Wednesday’s protests, he said no such actions were observed.
“I would say that this is probably the largest protest that we’ve seen this semester,” Severy said. “Early estimates over 100 students, between the counterprotesters, the protesters and folks that [were] just interested.”