On August 11, the University’s Office of Religious Life co-sponsored a rally at the Carl A. Fields Center in support of Planned Parenthood, drawing criticism from some members of the University community.
The rally was organized by Run 4 All Women New Jersey one day before six local women ran 44 miles from the Princeton Women’s Center to Philadelphia’s City Hall “to raise visibility and funds for Planned Parenthood of NJ — and to advance the social dialogue about equitable health care, women’s rights, and empowered wellness more broadly!”
Both events were advertised by ORL in a Facebook post, which also gave instructions on how to donate to Planned Parenthood on CrowdRise. As of this article’s publication, Run 4 All Women New Jersey has raised $6,592 to support the non-profit organization, which provides reproductive health care and abortion services.
According to Rev. Theresa Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel, who attended the rally, ORL’s “support for this ‘Run 4 All Women’ rally was really focused on the excitement of raising awareness about the work that Planned Parenthood does with supporting men and women and comprehensive health care and the access to such health care.”
“This is a conversation about access, this is a conversation about economic justice, this is a conversation about so many things,” Thames explained. “Abortion is just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does.”
Some members of the University community remained unconvinced that it was appropriate for ORL to co-sponsor this rally and voiced their concerns accordingly.
Alexandra Cavazos ‘19, co-president of Princeton Pro-Life, explained that it was “especially odd that the ORL would want to co-sponsor something not organized by a student group, even while knowing that some of the religious groups represented within the ORL itself – for example, Catholics and many Christians, but also people of other faiths – would likely be strongly opposed to support of an abortion provider."
“I absolutely believe that ORL’s decision to co-sponsor the event was at odds with its mission to ‘promote the care and support for the many religious and secular communities,’” she said, quoting from the ORL’s description of itself on its website.
“I know there are religious and pro-life students who feel alienated by the decision and who feel that ORL has failed to represent them. So, I think there’s a certain level of trust that has been broken for some people,” Cavazos explained. She also suggested that the ORL consider supporting Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) located in underserved areas as there are “16 FQHC sites for every Planned Parenthood center.”
This suggestion was one that Father Gabe Zeis T.O.R., chaplain for the Aquinas Institute, the University’s Catholic campus ministry, also alluded to in an interview with Campus Reform, a conservative news website focused on higher education.
Thomas Clark ‘18, president emeritus of the Elizabeth Anscombe Society and a member of The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board, echoed many of Cavazos’ concerns. “Abortion is a very controversial subject in most religious communities,” he said. “By co-sponsoring this fundraiser, the ORL divided rather than united, and took a hardline stance on a difficult moral question, rather than empowering students to hold and debate their own views.”
“The ORL does not have to choose between pro-life and pro-choice religious students, since there are both at Princeton,” Clark said. “There are many issues that students of different faith backgrounds and different moral values can find common ground on.”
Thames responded to these concerns by acknowledging the importance she ascribes to the discussion of tough moral issues. “Our hope is that in places where there is fraction or tension, instead of us going to our separate corners, we come together and have discourse and conversation and time of understanding and hearing different sides of an issue,” she said. “There are many, many issues that we want to invite people to talk about and engage in.”
On the other hand, there were others in the University community who supported the ORL’s actions, such as Jessica Quinter ‘18, president of Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice.
“The Office of Religious Life co-sponsoring and attending the ‘Run 4 All Women NJ rally for Planned Parenthood’ sends the strong message that the ORL recognizes and supports Planned Parenthood's mission to give all women access to services to manage their reproductive health,” said Quinter. “We are excited to see this show of support from ORL, especially at a time when women's reproductive rights are increasingly under threat. Access to basic, vital health care, such as that which Planned Parenthood provides, is something we should all support.”
The ORL does not have an official stance on abortion, and neither does the University.
“The Office of Religious Life does not take political stances,” said Assistant Vice President of Communications Daniel Day. “It does work with and support students and student organizations that hold many different viewpoints.”
“In this case, the ORL called attention to a particular event,” he said. However, “it contributed no funding.” Day then went on to explain that the Office of Religious Life, like any University office or department, makes its own decisions regarding which events it calls attention to or co-sponsors in accordance with the guidelines in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities relating to the tax-exempt status of the University and political activities.
The disagreement over this particular rally will not stop the Office of Religious Life from hosting its annual pro-life worship service in the University chapel. According to Rev. Alison Boden, Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel, “the service is centered on student leadership within Princeton Pro-Life and includes a variety of campus religious organizations.”
The ORL has hosted the worship service since 2006, and preparations have already begun for the service scheduled to occur in the 2017-18 academic year.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Cavazos’ name. The 'Prince' regrets the error.