Anti-abortion speaker draws protests

Voice for Life hosts self-proclaimed pro-life atheist Monica Snyder

By Janea Melido | March 26, 2024 9:14pm

Students react to Snyder's answer to a question. Snyder's answer sparks more questions from audience members without the microphone.

Media Credit: Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

Dozens of students standing at the back of the Brian Doyle Auditorium, many sitting on the floor. A room that has a capacity of 267 people, overflowing. 

A flurry of posters in the crowd read “never again,” “no forced birth” and “you can only ban safe abortions” for Monica Snyder’s “Deconstructing 3 Pro-Choice Myths” presentation on March 25 hosted by Campus Ministry student organization, Voice for Life.

The event was publicized through a March 24 email that Vice President of Student Affairs Fr. John Donato sent to all students.

Guest speaker Monica Snyder, with Secular Pro Life, begins her presentation about "Deconstructing 3 Pro-Choice myths."

by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

“In a spirit of the club’s openness to fresh and other perspectives, the club has invited Monica Snyder, the executive director of

Secular Pro-Life, whose background is in chemical biology and forensic science,” Donato said in the email. “She will speak about her pro-life advocacy entirely from the viewpoints of biology, secular philosophy and law. I personally invite you to attend.”

Snyder, whose organization is based in Naples, Florida, presented her counterarguments for what she referred to as three pro-choice myths:

  1. Biologically, we don't know when human life begins.

  2. Most or all later abortions are medical emergencies.

  3. Abortion restrictions don't stop abortions.

Her presentation was “designed to show you that there are several persistent myths that their population believes and link to abortion, that are factually verifiably untrue,” Snyder told what turned out to be a vocally hostile crowd.

With a Bachelors in chemical biology from University of California, Berkeley and a Master's in forensic science from University of California, Davis, Snyder focused on biological arguments in the debate over abortion and when life begins. Her stance was that the zygote is the first stage of a human organism’s life cycle.

“This presentation is meant to be just about things you can actually verify regardless of how you view the ethics of bodily rights, fetal personhood, access to health care, all of those things,” Snyder said.

The event drew a lot of opposition with students wearing green as a sign of protest, challenging the speaker’s claims and disrupting the presentation with burps. 

Students hold up hand-made signs in protest of the speaker as the event starts. Two signs pictured state "Force Birth = Violence" and "My Body My Choice!!" Many students sit on the floor and steps as all the chairs fill up.
by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

“People of color are disproportionately affected by anti and like in general by white people making decisions about like our bodies,” junior Sophia Olea VanCamp said. “And I just wanted to ask why were all the comments and why were all of the doctors listed non-people of color … this conversation is just so white-centered all the time and it's so frustrating for us.”

Frequent commotion erupted from the audience with students shouting “my body my choice” and “give us condoms,” interrupting the speaker. Provost David Mengel, who was moderating the event, stepped in to remind students of his audience expectation. 

“If your point here is to disrupt this talk, I will ask you to leave — I am asking you,” Mengel said.

During the question-and-answer portion following the presentation, Mengel and Michael Lewellen, the vice president for Marketing and Communications, attempted to limit students to asking one question each. They took turns handing out microphones to people who raised their hands. 

Their attempts were unsuccessful, and students without microphones began asking follow-up questions and showing support for their fellow protestors. 

Many contested the accuracy of her sources, challenged arguments she made and the University not having a pro-choice club or contraceptives on campus being inequitable.

Nursing student Kay Aschemeyer was a vocal advocate for pro-choice during the event, being the first to address the lack of contraceptives on campus and direct those questions towards Mengel.

Nursing student Kay Aschemeyer asks Snyder a question during the Q&A.

by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

“You’re talking about us not wanting us to interrupt your event but then you don’t allow us to have a pro-choice club and you don’t allow contraceptives to be gotten from our health center,” Aschemeyer said to Mengel. “... Can we have a meeting to discuss it? Like genuinely, because contraceptives are going to stop abortions.”

Aschemeyer’s efforts extended beyond the auditorium and into the classroom. Upon hearing about the event, they negotiated a deal with their Theology professor to give other junior nursing majors the opportunity to attend the event.

“After talking with friends and multiple people wanting to protest this that had that class during the time … I decided to email one of the professors,” Aschemeyer said. “They allowed us to get participation points if we went to the lecture course portion, and then it's kind of up to our mentors’ discretion on if we get the participation points for skipping the small group.”

Outside the auditorium, students tuned into Instagram livestreams showcasing the event, made posters with abortion rights slogans and taped them on the wall. One student put out a bowl of condoms for free distribution.

Student's who are locked out of the event due to overflow hang signs and sticky notes on the wall while listening to a livestream of the presentation and Q&A.
by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

Director of Campus Safety Michael McNerney stood guard at the door of the auditorium to prevent overcrowding.

“We had an occupancy issue with the event tonight where we exceeded the occupancy of the room in question,” McNerney said. “So, we had to close the doors and not allow anybody further into the space.”

Students who weren’t let in felt frustrated that an event that garnered so much interest was held in a limiting space. 

“I got here like right as the doors closed,” junior Evan Putzke said. They shut the doors, locked them. We're not allowed to go in, it's a fire hazard. I understand that. But also, it's frustrating that this event was held at a location that clearly does not reflect the capacity of students that wanted to attend the event. So sitting in the hallway kind of sucks.”

Student's who are locked out of the event due to overflow hang signs and sticky notes on the wall while listening to a livestream of the presentation and Q&A. The signs contain messages such as "Abortion saved my life" and "Abortion is a human right"
by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

After the event, students lingered in the halls recapping what was said with one another. 

“I had just felt a lot of frustration towards the school, and this was the first situation that I felt like I actually could do something I have control over,” Aschemeyer said. “… This was a situation that I could actually do something to get rid of some of my anger and frustration and put it towards something good and also help people and help other students.”

Others shared their thoughts on the speaker’s presentation. 

“I am very pro-choice,” junior Olivia Diana said. “I wanted to hear what she had to say and I want to be able to debate it. ... She made not great points, I don't think, but people gave a lot of valuable info and I think there's a lot to think about after.

Voice for Life President Ian Thompson declined an interview request from The Beacon.

Students received an email from Donato the morning after the event with the subject line reading “An Apology.”

Donato acknowledges the complaints he has received from students and clarifies the intent with his initial email was “to discourage the continued removal of advertisements” and “instead to invite students to engage with the speaker,” according to the email. 

“I have heard from many students, however, that my email had the unintended consequence of causing harm,” Donato wrote. “I also recognize that including the information about this event in my Palm Sunday message gave the impression that I and the university were providing an official endorsement for this speaker, who had been invited by a student group. For this, I seek forgiveness.” 

The Student Wellness Center also addressed the event the following day, posting a statement of support and providing resources on their Instagram.

“We would like to remind students that the Wellness Center and the services it provides are open to students of all backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives,” the post said. “Our staff is aware of the variety of reasons this content may have been activating, and we encourage students to access resources if needed.”

Janea Melido is the News and Managing Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at

Netty Jurriaans contributed to this story. She can be reached at

Tiffany Marquez Escobar contributed to this story. She can be reached at