Georgetown University has joined four other Catholic colleges in the nation in approving what its founders describe as a pro-choice club on campus.
During negotiations to gain club status, the group, GU Choice, had to agree not to advocate abortion but only to promote discussion of the issue. It also had to sacrifice its original name, Hoyas for Choice, because "Hoya" is a legal trademark of the school's athletic department.
John J. DeGioia, Georgetown's dean of student affairs, said his decision to approve the club does not contradict Catholic Church doctrine because the club advocates only discussion, not action. He said he was faced with a conflict between the doctrine of the church and the need for open academic debate at the university.
"It is my intention with this decision to balance at Georgetown a commitment to the free exchange of ideas with a 200-year commitment to the moral tradition of the Roman Catholic Church," DeGioia wrote in an open letter to the campus. The university has long had an antiabortion club on campus.
Georgetown last month faced another Catholic doctrine-university dispute when a student drug store on campus briefly sold condoms, and the university threatened to revoke its lease. The store removed the condoms, after selling 18 boxes in little more than a week. It sells other items the university objects to, such as Playboy magazine, but does not display them prominently.
GU Choice now has access to university benefits such as the use of classrooms for meetings, a mailbox and funding. Julie McKenna, co-chairwoman of GU Choice and a junior from Connecticut, said the club would likely apply for $200 to $300, mainly for speakers' fees.
Because it is the oldest Catholic university in the nation, Georgetown's approval of an abortion-rights group may set a precedent for Catholic campuses, said the other co-chairwoman, Kelli McTaggart, a junior from Pittsburgh.
However, McKenna said that being in a group called GU Choice that doesn't take a stand on the abortion issue may be a delicate situation. "I'd say we're pro-choice, and that's clear to me," she said. But "Catholic schools look at the issues so narrowly; for them pro-choice means pro-abortion. We're not about abortion, we're about choices."
Cardinal James Hickey, head of the archdiocese of Washington, opposed the decision in a letter to university officials. "To allow such a group . . . is inconsistent with the aims of an institution of higher learning that has a Catholic identity," Hickey said.
Another campus club that was once denied university recognition, a gay and lesbian group, won a suit in federal court against the school a few years ago and was given unrecognized club status. Last summer, it was given equality with other clubs when the school liberalized standards for all student clubs -- paving the way for GU Choice.