|Students for Life members at Clarion University in Pennsylvania hold fetal development signs and hand out literature at a pro-life event on campus last fall. Photo courtesy of Thomas McConnell|
In October, when pro-life students at the University of Buffalo placed rows of crosses into the ground to commemorate the lives lost to abortion (a display referred to as a “Cemetery of the Innocents”), they expected some trouble. The previous year, the display had been ripped down three times.
This academic year, however, the school moved them to a part of campus near a surveillance camera. That, the students thought, would minimize the number of times they had to redo the display.
They thought wrong.
The very first night it was up, the display was ripped apart, bagged and tossed in a dumpster. The camera caught only a hazy image. So, the pro-life student group, led by its president and founder Sara Buttitta, put the display back up and took turns guarding the display.
That, however, didn’t stop a faculty member from showing up a few days later with a group of pro-choice students.
Screaming, “Let’s start a riot,” the faculty member and students ripped crosses out of the ground. They stopped when campus police showed up and were dismissed with a warning.
Some students were shocked by the incident. But not Buttitta. It had taken her more than a year to get the club temporary recognition as an official student organization (it takes most groups less than two weeks), and that came only after the threat of a lawsuit. Likewise, the group’s fundraising banquet had been something of a fiasco, with a fine being levied against the club for hosting an event that was “belligerent” and the student activities board denying the club access to the funds raised at the dinner.
|A Pro-Life Generation?|
Although some recent polls seemed to indicate that younger Americans are more pro-life than preceding generations, that conclusion has been called into question by the 2011 Public Religion Research Institute poll, which found that:
60% of young people ages 18-29 support abortion rights, as opposed to 58 percent of those ages 30-49, 59 percent of those ages 50-64, and 43 percent of those over 65.
50% of young people ages 18-29 believe abortion is morally wrong, as opposed to 54 percent of those ages 30-49, 51 percent of those ages 50-64, and 57 percent of those over 65.
“It was a bunch of middle-aged, Roman Catholic church people listening to a young woman speak about the beauty of life,” Buttitta said. “How that could even come close to being ‘belligerent’ is beyond me.”
It’s not, however, beyond Steve Macias, West Coast regional coordinator with Students for Life of America. As a student, Macias experienced his college administration’s hostility to pro-life students firsthand.
Elected student body president during his senior year at Sacramento City College, Macias, along with the entire student body government, approved the campus pro-life group’s request to bring in a pro-life speaker and pro-life display as part of the school’s 2008 Constitution Day celebration. Macias thought nothing about it … until one of the school’s top administrators pulled him out of class on the day of the event and threatened to remove him from student government if he didn’t retract permission for the pro-life display.
Macias refused. The administration carried out its threat. It took three months of legal wrangling and an unsuccessful recall election before they backed down, reinstated Macias and apologized.
Macias was fortunate, however, to have the backing of Students for Life of America, which provides training, resources and assistance to more than 600 student pro-life groups nationwide, and the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative public interest legal group that seeks to defend religious liberty, the sanctity of life and traditional marriage and family.
The two groups helped Macias know his rights and stand up against the college’s infringement of them. After graduating in 2009, he went to work for Students for Life of America and over the past two years, has seen a multitude of pro-life students face similar situations.
“Just this past semester there have been half a dozen student groups in California alone who have come to us for help because they haven’t been able to get funding or space to host an event or because their school’s administration has thrown some wrench in their plans,” Macias told OSV.
There have been similar incidents in other parts of the country at schools such as Wayne State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Houston, San Francisco State University and many others, where other groups advocating for homosexual rights, abortion rights and similar issues operate freely, while pro-life groups face major hurdles. Those hurdles have ranged from unfair fees and penalties being levied against student groups, to acts of vandalism against their displays, denial of access to school facilities and administrators refusing to allow pro-life speakers on campus.
David Cortman, an attorney with Alliance Defense Fund, said the problem of administrators silencing pro-life groups “is extremely widespread from coast to coast on both the university and secondary school levels. We hear about dozens of cases every year, and I doubt we’re hearing about the majority of them.”
The reason for that, he continued, is that “most students don’t know their rights and aren’t aware of groups like Alliance Defense Fund, who will assist them free of charge.”
The bulk of the time, the problems seem to come from adamantly pro-abortion administrators who, Cortman said, “are out of touch with their student bodies, student bodies that are more pro-life than students have been in the past.”
But fellow students are also frequent offenders.
Last spring at Clarion University in Clarion, Pa., a group of students tore down the pro-life student groups’ Cemetery of the Innocents display, splashed red paint all over the crosses, and used them to spell out the word “pro-choice.”
“From the administration we’ve never been treated with anything but respect,” said Thomas McConnell, president of Students for Life at Clarion. “Even most of the students who disagree with us were bothered by what happened to the display. But it just takes a few.”
Those few, however, aren’t affecting McConnell’s resolve to stand up for life on campus.
“Their actions have actually strengthened our resolve,” he said. “It makes us want to show them that we’re not anti-woman. We’re pro-life, in part, because we believe abortion hurts women.”
It’s that attitude that Jackie Anderson, communications director of Students for Life of America, believes will make all the difference for the students and the pro-life movement as a whole in the years ahead.
“A lot of the students we work with want to do full-time pro-life work later on, so experiencing opposition like this now prepares them for what will come then.”
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.