Last week, Voice For Life (VFL) was denied official group status by the Student Government Association (SGA). Despite the number of students who consider this a free speech issue, let us set the record straight. Hopkins is a private university and thus operates under a different set of rules from public universities. Even if this is not a free speech issue, I feel that there has been a lot of information being misunderstood on both sides of the pro-life and pro-choice debate. Therefore, let us dissect some of the arguments in favor of and against VFL.
According to many of the comments from The News-Letter and r/JHU, there has been a concern that VFL exhibits behavioral tendencies similar to the more radical pro-life groups which display pictures of dead fetuses and harass students while they walk to class through the Breezeway. In other instances, many students cite examples of unscientific opinions used by other pro-life groups as justification for their causes. These are all legitimate concerns and should be addressed by the leadership of VFL, especially given the fact that Hopkins has been a target of radical pro-life groups every year on Charles Street.
But I believe the answer can be found on their website. The activities which VFL lists are: “invite pro-life speakers to come, sponsor debates on campus, put up posters, advocate for information about abortion alternatives to be placed around campus, be present at student information fairs, set up a table in the Breezeway in order to survey students and promote critical thinking on abortion and related issues.” None of these is, in my opinion, related to any form of harassment, unless they are using cryptic language. In fact, the activities they have listed are not much different from what other groups do on campus. Nevertheless, I can see how these activities can be interpreted, especially since posters can be misconstrued as pictures of dead fetuses and advocacy can be aggressive at times.
Another part of VFL’s mission statement is their claim that they are, “Defending the Dignity of Human Life at JHU Since 1995.” Many students contend that a former club from 1995 was more representative of the radical protestors and therefore VFL should not receive university support. However, I have yet to read any credible source on the pro-life group from 1995 and can only conclude that this is hearsay or at best anecdotal evidence. Just because one group is related to another group does not mean that both groups will be exactly the same.
In my opinion, many of the students’ reactions to VFL seem to stem from a prior confirmation bias or inconclusive evidence. However, what is more disturbing is the apparent comparison of this group with a white supremacist group at Towson University. This distasteful comment from an SGA member (who should resign) only fuels the fire that VFL is being discriminated against due to their conservative views.
Already, the Daily Caller and Fox News have covered this association and it will only get worse if the SGA and VFL do not mutually resolve the problem. In order to solve this problem, the SGA should at least hold another hearing on VFL, giving them an impartial and unbiased assessment. This hearing should have stipulations on what the group can and cannot do on campus. By talking to each other rather than debating behind closed doors, both parties can arrive at an understanding. I’m sure that even though many students on campus are pro-choice, they are not opposed to a group because of its beliefs in pro-life issues. The opposition should be from the way the pro-life issues are presented to the public and that is a reasonable concern.
Bo Tao is a senior Public Health major from Baltimore, Md. He is a staff writer for The News-Letter.