MARQUETTE - As Northern Michigan University students made their way to and from classes Wednesday morning, they may have been startled by several oversized photographs depicting aborted fetuses.
The giant photographs were brought to campus by Missionaries to the Preborn, an anti-abortion organization based in Milwaukee, Wis.
The group of roughly 20 protesters is spending the week traveling across the Upper Peninsula. Monday, they displayed the graphic images during the annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, followed by a stop Tuesday at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie.
From right, Northern Michigan University sophomore Maria Seger, a zoology major, speaks with Missionaries to the Preborn member Corrie Zastrow, 20, as her brother Jim Zastrow, 16, holds giant signs protesting abortions. The group was on campus for nearly four hours before moving its protest to West Washington Street in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Missionaries to the Preborn member Hudson Nyhart,17, hands out pamphlets to passing students Wednesday afternoon outside Jamrich Hall on NMU’s campus. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Today, the group will protest on the campus of Michigan Tech University in Houghton.
The photographs, blown up roughly five feet tall, were on display throughout Northern's campus Wednesday, from the area outside the residence halls to the academic mall to the sidewalk outside the University Center.
The pictures - upon which words like "murder" were printed in large, bold black letters - elicited emotional responses from students walking by.
One woman, riding past Missionaries to the Preborn founder Matthew Trewhella on her mountain bike, yelled an expletive at him because of the photograph he stood behind - the remains of an aborted fetus which had legs and arms detached from its body.
"Some people despise the fact that we're showing these photographs," Trewhella said. "Our position on it is that if the killing of preborn babies is going to be public policy in our nation - and it is - then their suffering should be publicly displayed. If we're going to tolerate their killing then we should be able to look at the suffering of those being killed."
Along with the images depicting aborted fetuses, the group also showed large photographs of fetuses still in the womb.
"It definitely impacts people when they see the photographs ... both of the babies developing in the womb and those killed by abortion," Trewhella said. "Both the pictures are important."
Trewhella said he's been showing the photographs to the public for 20 years.
The group was also handing out flyers to passers-by which contained the graphic images, but explained why the group uses them.
Jess Davis, 26, a member of the group, said the images were meant to change minds in the same way other, now famous, graphic images have done in the past.
"We did the same thing with World War II images, Vietnam images, Emmett Till - his mother opened his casket after he was beaten to death," Davis said. "It's just, there's something about the reality of an image that really hits home for people."
Though many students walking by seemed angered by the photographs, not all responses to the group's presence on campus were hostile. Several group members said the photographs had started conversations between them and students during the roughly four hours they spent at Northern, including with sophomore zoology major Maria Seger.
Seger, who calmly discussed religion with Missionaries to the Preborn member Corrie Zastrow, 20, said she thought it was best to talk with people rather than condemn them.
"Even if I find it a little extreme to have these pictures, to me, it's things that you see all the time ... you become desensitized to it," Seger said. "I don't think they're wrong, or their opinion's wrong, or their beliefs. if they want to be pro-life and think that (abortion) is bad, then that's fine. I'm not going to tell them different. But I wanted to know, and then they wanted to talk to me, and now we're having a level discussion, because I think that people should be accepting of other people's opinions and figure out why they think that and not just criticize."
The protesters also spent time along Washington Street in Marquette Wednesday afternoon, displaying the signs to passing motorists.
The Marquette City Police Department was called at least two times, according to the department's daily log, once to report the protest and once to report a protester stepping in front of traffic to hand pamphlets to people in vehicles.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.