Antiabortion student group now allowed at Johns Hopkins University


Anti-abortion protesters attend the March for Life on Jan. 25 in Washington, DC. The pro-life gathering is held each year around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) (Brendan Hoffman/GETTY IMAGES)
April 10, 2013

The Johns Hopkins University Student Government Association’s judiciary arm has overturned a March decision by the student-run senate to deny “official group status” to Voice for Life, an antiabortion advocacy and awareness group.

Voice for Life now enjoys formal recognition from the student government, allowing members to host events and fundraise on campus, reserve meeting rooms, list events on university Web sites, apply for university funding and use the university’s name, logo and seal, among other things, according to a statement from the judiciary committee distributed Wednesday morning.

At a March 12 meeting of the Student Government Association, student leaders denied Voice for Life’s request for group recognition with a vote of 10 to 8, with four students abstaining, according to meeting minutes posted online. Voice for Life plans to “inform people about pro-life and help women in Baltimore, also sidewalk counseling” outside health clinics, an agenda that concerned some students.

The minutes include some of the hesitations, including: “Should a Hopkins group be involved in this much activism?” The Student Activities Commission also was “concerned with making people feel uncomfortable,” especially as the campus pro-choice group is no longer active.

At the same meeting, the students approved five clubs, which are dedicated to sustainability, Chinese culture, bringing TED lectures to campus, skiing and snowboarding and “justice in Palestine.” The students tabled an application for women’s rugby, as it might already be a club recognized by the recreation center. Voice for Life wasn’t the only group denied recognition, as students turned down requests from three groups focused on Korean traditional performing arts, short film making and shopping.

The decision to not recognize Voice for Life quickly prompted criticism. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to student government leaders on Monday, saying: “There is little doubt that personal preferences are at the heart of this matter.” Columnist George F. Will tackled the topic last week, writing: “Obviously, the SGA has acted to express animus against the content of VFL’s speech and to protect students from the discomfort of disagreement.”

The Student Government Association Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to overturn the decision. In a statement, the committee said: “This ruling is not a judgment of the group’s eligibility for funding, or a comment on the tradition that advocacy and awareness groups do not receive annual budgets from the university.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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