Johns Hopkins pro-life club gains recognition after fight with student government

April 10, 2013

By Maria Wiering

mwiering@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewWiering

A pro-life student club at The Johns Hopkins University was granted official club status after the Baltimore school’s Student Government Association initially denied the club’s application last month.

The club, Voice for Life, challenged the decision before the SGA Judiciary Committee April 9. The Judiciary Committee notified club leaders later that day that they had ruled in the club’s favor. It plans to release a full written decision within two weeks.

Andrew Guernsey, Voice for Life president, said he was “elated” by the ruling.

“It was a really moving experience after all the work we put into get the group started, that we get re-recognition,” he said. “Now we get started with what we really set out to do, which is to help women and to help the unborn.”

Guernsey, a freshman and an active member of Johns Hopkins Catholic Community at Ss. Philip and James in Charles Village, thought the school already had a pro-life club when he enrolled. He discovered the club had dissolved in 2010 due to member inactivity, and he launched efforts to reestablish it.

Its members sought the student government’s approval, but the SGA Senate denied the application at a March 12 meeting.

The SGA Senate cited concerns that the group’s plans to provide sidewalk counseling at a nearby abortion clinic would violate the school’s harassment policies.

It also found offensive the practices of a pro-life organization listed as a resource on Voice for Life’s website. The organization, the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, uses photos of aborted fetuses in its programming, which it has displayed near Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus.

Voice for Life maintained that its approach to sidewalk counseling did not violate Johns Hopkins’ harassment policy, and its website contents were protected by the SGA constitution under freedom of speech. It assured the SGA that it does not plan to use photos of aborted fetuses in its programming.

The closed judiciary hearing included members of the SGA Judiciary Committee and two representatives from Voice for Life and the SGA Senate.

The Senate argued that allowing Voice for Life to have official status would cause some women on campus to feel uncomfortable, especially if they have had abortions, said Guernsey, who participated in the hearing.

Guernsey said SGA is supposed to maintain “viewpoint neutrality,” but did not in its assessment of Voice for Life’s mission, he said.

Official status is important to Voice for Life because it allows the club to reach more Johns Hopkins students, said the club’s vice president Monica Rex.

As a club, Voice for Life can host speakers, hold on-campus events, fundraise, publicize announcements and use university resources to recruit members.

Voice for Life expects to begin with about 20 members, Rex said.

“Now we’re ready to get our feet wet,” she said.

The club’s efforts attracted national attention as it fought for official status. Guernsey said he didn’t seek the media attention, but hopes it inspired students in similar situations.

“I’m happy that the issue came to light of discrimination against pro-life students on campuses,” he said. “It’s not just about Johns Hopkins, and what went on with the student government. It’s about a trend in higher education. We would hope that what we went through wouldn’t be in vain, that other students on other campuses might have courage after seeing our success to stand up for their pro-life beliefs on their campuses, too.”

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