By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. We’re including this story from the November 2002 issue of NRL News in our year-long “Roe at 40” series because the success of a campus pro-life group is always important news and because it signaled what because an ongoing resurgence of pro-life groups on campuses.
Bowing to a wave of criticism, the Student Bar Association (SBA) at Washington University in St. Louis has reversed itself and agreed to recognize Law Students Pro-Life. The October 15 turnabout followed on the heels of a sharply worded editorial that appeared the day before in the adamantly pro-abortion St. Louis Post-Dispatch, support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, and patient work by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Following two hours of hot debate, the law school’s student government changed course, voting to recognize Law Students Pro-Life on a vote of 27-6 with four abstentions. “I’ll be the first to admit that my argument had more holes in it than Swiss cheese,” said Jeff Wax, an SBA member, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The SBA refusal to recognize Law Students Pro-Life–not once but three times–was based on grounds so flimsy it sparked intense resistance for its blatant assault on academic freedom.
Originally, SBA President Elliott Friedman archly informed Law Students Pro-Life that “the catching issue” was what he labeled “the narrowness of your group’s interests and goals.” The SBA, he wrote, “felt that the organization was not touching on all possible Pro Life issues” because it did not have an “anti-death penalty” position in its constitution.
But as the Post-Dispatch editorial pointed out, “It’s the narrow-mindedness of the SBA’s thinking — not the narrowness of the anti-abortion group — that’s the problem.” In truth,”The SBA already recognizes student groups for African-American and Asian students as well as Christians, Jews and proponents of gender and sexual equality — to say nothing of golfers.”
Dean Joel Seligman added his weight to calls for the SBA to reverse its position. When the SBA revisited the issue October 10, Dean Seligman said, “We appear to have stomped our foot down and said there’s only one ideologically and politically appropriate way to behave.”
Interestingly, Law Students Pro-Life had merely sought recognition–they hadn’t even requested money. Fortunately, in the end, cooler heads prevailed.
“Numerous students” spoke up for free speech, according to the Post-Dispatch. “I just want you to swallow your pride, forget about what’s been said and do what’s best for students,” said Zachary May, a first-year law student.
Several SBA members said they’d stayed with their prior votes, but they were ultimately outnumbered.
“We must respond as level-headed adults and not as chastised children,” Geoff Ulreich, an SBA member, told the Post-Dispatch.