//The Brazen Project Field and Events Lead Erin Hebert, Coalition and Visibility Lead Kae Storm and Data and Volunteer Development Lead Zoe King at the University Memorial Center on CU Boulder’s campus on Feb. 7. Photo courtesy of The Brazen Project.
Historically, the anti-abortion movement has steered the narrative surrounding reproductive healthcare, and college campuses in Colorado are no exception. Through the years, anti-abortion groups often outnumbered their pro-abortion counterparts on campuses around the state, a gap that The Brazen Project looked to fill when it first started in 2017.
“There’s always at least two student groups at every campus that are anti-abortion, but it’s kind of hard to find ones that are explicitly pro-abortion,” said Program Manager Victoria Dadet, who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns.
It’s hard to miss the abundant conversations surrounding abortion today, as long-running protections are now at risk of being overturned through anti-abortion legislation. In turn, pro-abortion groups and legislators have mobilized in Colorado and beyond to combat the narrative. The Brazen Project is one of them, looking to facilitate these conversations and tackle abortion stigma with future leaders: young people on college campuses.
The project is named to represent their “brazen” approach, conversing about abortion access boldly and without shame. The Brazen Project is active at Auraria Campus, Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Colorado Boulder.
It’s a conversation students were eager to have. The Brazen Project hung up a number of pro-abortion posters around the CU campus in 2019, which were gradually covered with back-and-forth messages written by students; one anti-abortion message spawned a pro-abortion reply, and the exchange persisted from there.
“That was really fascinating, to see that we’re able to get people to have these conversations with each other without us ever needing to actually talk to those people,” Dadet said.
The recent omicron COVID-19 surge has slowed down in-person campus events, though Brazen student fellows and staff typically set up a table to be a source of support and a constant reminder of the stigma surrounding abortion.
Dadet said one of the most noticeable changes in Brazen history is the response to abortion as a relevant issue. Students in 2017 and 2018 often said abortion access wasn’t a pressing issue, but the conversation has “fully changed now,” given the anti-abortion legislation making its way around the country.
Namely, Senate Bill 8 in Texas was passed in September 2021, which bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy; the U.S. Supreme Court also heard arguments in December reviewing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, both potentially setting precedents that could threaten abortion access for states across the country. Colorado legislators and pro-abortion groups recently introduced the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which would ensure access to contraceptives and abortions by codifying protections for the full range of reproductive healthcare into state law.
Dadet said national cases often dominate the conversations, and many students question where these proceedings leave Coloradans.
“That has been something I see young people really paying attention to, then having questions about what it looks like in Colorado. ‘What’s it like here?’ People [are] trying to challenge their assumption that Colorado is a super liberal, progressive, perfect state,” they said. “That has definitely shifted over the years, but even before all of the anti-abortion legislation became a big tornado, we saw a lot of people wanting to engage with us on anti-abortion counseling centers.”
Dadet said expanding to different campuses, namely the CSU campus, was crucial. She noted the “pretty robust” anti-abortion movement in Fort Collins, which is generally more conservative on abortion issues. Drive down Shields Street near Campus West on any given day, and you’ll likely see a protest at Planned Parenthood.
There is also an anti-abortion counseling center across the street from CSU’s campus. These centers, also called crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers, are often funded by national or international anti-abortion organizations, with the goal to coerce people pursuing an abortion against the procedure. They may lie about the procedure and risks to the pregnant person—of which there are very few—and use problematic tactics to steer people away from abortion.
“A lot of the reaction that I get from students when I talk about this is that they had never heard of it,” said Kae Storm, a CU Brazen fellow who uses they/them pronouns. “A lot are surprised, ’Who would use these tactics?’ such as leading pregnant people through a room of baby clothing, forcing them to look at a picture of the sonogram or forcing them to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus—just a lot of really emotionally manipulative tactics to convince people to hold onto pregnancies that they might not want to continue.”
They added that anti-abortion counseling centers often go further, setting up next to a credible abortion facility or utilizing search words on Google to take priority over facilities legitimately offering abortion services.
Dadet also said anti-Black racism is a huge part of their tactics.
“They’ll use language like, ‘Abortion is genocide,’ to make Black people feel bad about making this decision for our bodies,” they said.
Erin Hebert, a CU Brazen fellow who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, said they try to talk about anti-abortion counseling centers almost every time they interact with a student, ultimately pointing back to The Brazen Project’s focus on education.
“When I have conversations with the opposition, the ‘irresponsible’ narrative comes up a lot, and it’s so much bigger than that,” she said. “Opening it up, educating yourself, I think, is the most important thing individuals can do.”
It’s a fine line though, as Dadet noted Brazen is always willing to provide education to people, but they are not willing to engage in debates.
“We always reject [requests to participate in campus debates], because abortion rights are not up for debate; bodily autonomy is not up for debate,” Dadet said.
Storm and Hebert both recalled their experiences at Brazen, saying even folks who voice opposition are often receptive to learning more if they decide to stop at a table and start a conversation, sometimes even shifting their stance.
“Learning happens, of course, in and out of class, but I think that’s what’s really special about that college demographic, is that there is more acceptance and openness to learning,” Storm said.
These interactions also show the need for organizations like The Brazen Project at college campuses, as young people step out into the “real world” and begin to form their own, solid opinions.
“A lot of young people are super radical,” Dadet said. “We want to get to the root of the problem. We don’t like Band-Aid solutions, and young people are willing and able to be leaders. So, we’re just bringing this information to potential leaders and saying, ‘Hey, join us, and let’s show you how you can take the lead on this issue, too.’”
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