Hoyas: Are they for choice?

By the

February 8, 2001

The battle between Georgetown as a Catholic institution and as a university is perhaps nowhere better shown than in the abortion debate. Georgetown has walked a tightrope between academic freedom of speech and its obligation to Catholic moral principles. As the country comes under the direction of a new, more conservative President, and RU-486 (the abortion drug) comes to the market, the national abortion debate gets louder. The abortion debate at Georgetown, and the presence of a pro-choice group on campus, has been a complicated and volatile issue.

The History

The first Hoyas for Choice meeting was held in Oct. 1989 by the group’s co-founders, Kelli McTaggard (CAS ‘92) and Christy Green (CAS ‘90). The group decided to seek university funding and recognition, and in November 1990 former Dean of Students John J. DeGioia received a recommendation from the Student Activities Commission (SAC) that GU Choice met the University’s eligibility requirements to receive access to University benefits. The name was changed to GU Choice because “Hoyas” is a legal trademark of the Athletic Department.

DeGioia, now current Senior Vice President, announced in Februrary 1991 that GU Choice was eligible for Georgetown University funding, facilities and other benefits for the 1991-1992 academic year.

James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, responded to the announcement, writing in Feb. 1991 that “The decision of Georgetown University to grant benefits to an organization called ‘GU Choice’ is most regrettable ? to allow such a group access to university facilities, office space, and funding is inconsistent with the aims of an institution of higher learning that has a Catholic identity.”

University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S. J., however, disagreed, saying in a letter to an alumus in April 1991 that “disallowing a student group?or any public discussion of the issue of abortion on this campus?would not be educative. Instead it would invite accusations that the University does not have the strength of its moral convictions to defend them against those who disagree.”

DeGioia argued in an open letter to the campus (the same letter which announced the funding of GU Choice) that, for many years, the University did provide “official recognition” to student clubs and organizations, but that changed in July of 1990 when the University implemented the title “Eligibility for Benefits.” The purpose in this change of recognition being that students could “pursue interests and objectives of their own choosing without University sanction of the merits of those activities or objectives.” The criteria for recognition of a club are that it is open to all undergraduates, has at least 12 undergraduate members, does not duplicate the activities of another club, has a sound constitution and is in compliance with all university policies. The benefits include a mailbox in the Office of Student Programs, the ability to use university vans, access to facilities, office space and funding.

The purpose of GU Choice, as stated in its constitution, was to increase “awareness and discussion of the arguments central to the abortion debate.” GU Choice was not to fund abortions, provide referrals to abortion clinics or publish brochures recommending abortion clinics, because, DeGioia said, “The students of GU Choice recognize that they will be conducting their activities in an institutional context in which the matter of abortion is settled.” In other words, an institution that did not provide abortions at the hospital, provide abortion counseling or make referrals to abortion clinics.

Immediately, there was opposition to GU Choice. In the fall of 1991, a group of alumni, including prominent alumni William Peter Blatty (CAS ‘50), Henry Hyde (CAS ‘47) and Patrick J. Buchanan (CAS ‘61), formed the Committee for Georgetown Values to oppose the GU Choice decision. The committee sent letters to 3,000 of the most active alumni asking them to show their disapproval. Conservative Catholics also joined the fight by forming the Georgetown Ignatian Society in April of 1991 to convince O’Donovan to reverse his decision to recognize GU Choice. The Georgetown Ignatian Society urged alumni to withhold funds from the university and to instead donate to the Georgetown Ignatian Fund and also to resign from any position of leadership, especially concerning fundraising, to protest the decision.

A cannon lawsuit was submitted by a student, an alumus, a faculty member and a parent to the Cardinal in order to revoke Georgetown’s Catholic identit.y. As stated in the lawsuit, ”?to remove the privilege presently conferred on Georgetown University to refer to itself as Catholic, is required to end the current scandal and confusion caused by the ‘GU Choice’ decision, and to defend the integrity of other truly Catholic institutions.”

In 1992, a student, Bob Lannen (CAS ‘92) accused GU Choice, in a letter to the editor in The Hoya, of violating the group’s charter by providing information about abortion-rights events and advocating pro-choice activity. DeGioia decided in April to reverse the decision to grant GU Choice recognition and university funding due to their violation of the agreement to remain a group dedicated to the aims of providing a forum for the discussion of choice.

According to Martha Swanson, Director of Student Organizations, a lot of the same people involved in GU Choice were also involved in clinic defense (escorting women inside abortion clinics), and the line was blurred between what individual students were involved in and what GU Choice did as an organization.

The Church

The Catholic stance on abortion is absolute; abortion is not sanctioned in any case. According to Thomas King, S. J. in the past, abortion had the penalty of excommunication from the church; however, that penalty is not common today because excommunication would imply that the person knew that they were going to get to get an abortion before they were pregnant.

Although the official church stance is against abortion, many Catholics do not agree. According to Catholics for a Free Choice, in the United States, 64 percent of Catholics disapprove of the statement that abortion is morally wrong in every case; Catholic women have abortions at a rate comparable to women in the general population.

The University

Georgetown University does not perform abortions at the Georgetown University Hospital or the Student Health Center. Neither Student Health, Counseling and Psychiatry nor Health Education provide referrals to abortion clinics or abortion counseling. The University does not involve itself in preventative measures either. Condom demonstrations were given in Peer Education until the academic year 1999-2000 after Georgetown ruled the year before that condom demonstrations were in conflict with Georgetown’s Catholic identity. Condoms are not sold in Vital Vittles or Weismillers’. Further, Student Health can not distribute any birth control (unless it’s oral contraceptives used for medical health reasons), and birth control prescribed by doctors in the university hospital must be obtained off-campus.

Nancy Cantalupo (CAS ‘95), director of the Women’s Center, said that “Given the fact that we receive funding from Georgetown and are not a counseling office, we do not distribute information about abortion. We do not have programming that has anything about abortion regardless of the perspective being presented in that program. The students who started the Women’s Center agreed not to deal with abortion.”

Because there are so many different resources for women to obtain pregnancy testing, such as drug stores, clinics, their family doctor or Student Primary Care, it is difficult to know how many women become pregnant onGeorgetown’s campus every year. Georgetown Pregnancy Services estimate that they distribute aproximately 200 free, anonymous pregnancy tests each year. Because no abortion counseling is given by the University, it is even harder to estimate how many women have abortions on campus each year.

While many women who become pregnant decide to leave Georgetown, there are also women who decide to stay. These women are known as Hoya Mothers, a group of mothers on campus who are raising their children and attending classes. Currently, there are four student moms, and 3 more are expecting this semester.

Hyas for Choice

Today, Hyas for Choice can accomplish more as an idependent organization. Under the speech and expression policy, any student can reserve a classroom and hold a meeting, as long as it is clear that the meeting is not an official part of the University.

According to Marlo Huang (MSB ‘03), a board member of Hyas for Choice, this presents problems organizing meetings. “We don’t find out whether or not we have a room to use until the day before or the day of the meeting. It makes it hard to schedule meetings,” Huang said.

Hyas for Choice can sit in Red Square, or the Leavey Center in inclement weather, because they are the free speech areas on campus. However the group is not listed in the Student Handbook or the Georgetown web page as an official student organization. It is not allowed to participate in SAC fair. Swanson said that Hyas for Choice has not overstepped its bounds or caused problems as a student organization without benefits.

Now that Hyas for Choice does not have to honor an agreement with the University, it is free to pursue activities contrary to University beliefs. One of the largest activities that Hyas for Choice participates in is condom distribution. The group distributes condoms when they have a table in Red Square, and they also have around 40 to 50 condom representatives that tape condoms to their dorm room doors for students that want to use them but do not have condoms on hand. “Condom reps” are not freely accepted by all members of the University. Huang, and her roommate Lindsay Hoopes (FLL ‘03), also a board member of Hyas for Choice, were “condom reps” in Harbin last year, and according to Huang and Hoopes, their Resident Advisor asked them to remove the condoms from their door because he felt it reflected poorly on the cluster and that the outside of the door was not their property. Huang and Hoopes left the condoms on their door, and “relations with the rest of the cluster ceased,” said Huang.

Another activity that Hyas for Choice is involved in is an escort service at clinics. On Saturday mornings, pro-life protesting is popular at reproductive clinics, and Hyas for Choice send one to three escorts every Saturday to work with The Washington Area Clinic Task Force, a group that aides in women entering reproductive-health clinics.

Carrie Price (CAS ‘02),a board member of Hyas for Choice, said that because the group is not funded it receives their support completely from donations from members, the community and the staff of Georgetown.

GU Right to Life

GU Right to Life is recognized for University benefits and receives $1,230 annually, which is a little more than average for student groups. The group is mainly involved with community service. The group works with the Northwest Women’s Center, a house for women who have decided to keep their children but do not have the means to support them. Right to Life baby-sits for the center, has bake sales to raise money and holds formula and diaper drives at Safeway.

Tom Weirich (SFS ‘02), co-vice-president of Right to Life, said that the majority of Right to Life feels that abortion should be illegal. There are some members of the organization that feel that abortion should be allowed in certain cases, but “we are all anti-abortion in convenience cases,” Weirich said.

The group also participated in the second pregnancy forum held on campus which included representatives from organizations such as women’s services, housing and campus ministry. According to Jenny Bradley (MSB ‘03), the outreach service chair of Right to Life, the forum was intended to show women on campus that there are other options than abortion.

Weirich, while personally adamantly against abortion, says that funding a pro-choice group is the university’s decision. “If they did get funding I wouldn’t be against it.”

Bradley disagrees, “Based on the Jesuit tradition of the school, you can’t fund them.”

The Faculty

The faculty stands on both sides of the abortion debate. King heads Faculty for Life, an international organization that has 600 members and is based at Georgetown. The group has had four conferences on pro-life issues and publishes the proceedings of the conferences and a newsletter four times a year. King is also the faculty advisor for GU Right to Life.

Hyas for Choice does not have a faculty advisor.

“Our biggest support, although sometimes silent, is from the faculty?they are proud that we are speaking out for what we believe,” said Hoopes. While several people interviewed speculated that non-tenured faculty might be nervous saying they are pro-choice, there is definitely a pro-choice faculty constituency on campus. Mark Lance, an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department said, “A lot of faculty support Hyas for Choice and I am one of them.” He is also not hesitant to say that he is pro-choice, “Abortion is a complicated moral issue, but I think it should be legal.”

Lance said, “While Georgetown is a Catholic University, it is a university first and foremost, and while there are views that they [the University] are committed to representing, there is complete freedom to the faculty [to express their viewpoints].”

Professor Suzanna Walters, Director of the Women’s Studies Program, said, “I think it is wrong that all varieties of student groups are not funded. Hyas for Choice has as much of a right to be funded as Right to Life.”

Lance agreed, “Georgetown has a commitment to free discourse on campus so that all groups can express their views.” However, Lance thinks that Hyas for Choice are better off in their current situation?without funding. “The agreement they were forced to accept was that they would merely provide information and not advocate … I don’t think the University should have put restrictive agreements on student groups in the first place.”

The Future

The predictions are varied for how a new University President will deal with the abortion issue and student groups on campus. Hoopes hopes that some sort of process for non-funded groups will be established.

“I don’t think that they [the University] should necessarily fund us, but I don’t think it should be hard to get what we do think across,”said Hoopes.

Huang said, “We don’t ever expect full acceptance on campus. We understand that this is a Catholic University and we choose to go here. We do hope that there is some sort of groundwork laid for dealing with people like us.”

Right to Life hopes for more interaction with Hyas for Choice. “Even though we have political differences, we want to have the common ground for helping women who have decided to keep their babies … our communication has been limited and we hope for better communication with them,” Bradley said.

Huang is hesitant for Hyas for Choice to participate in a debate with Right to Life. “It is an issue that people rarely budge on,” said Huang.

However, both sides said that they have never experienced any animosity with the other group. “Antagonism is directed at individuals and is done anonymously,” said Huang. “We have never felt animosity from Right to Life,” said Hoopes.

Hyas for Choice wants to send the message that they are not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. “We want to keep abortion safe, legal and rare,” said Hoopes.

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