A campus event, titled “Make Abortion Illegal Again,” has sparked a political debate and controversy about free speech on campus in a mass email chain sent to the University community.
The event was hosted virtually by the Catholic Campus Ministry on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and featured a presentation by Kristan Hawkins, founder of the non-profit, anti-abortion organization Students for Life of America.
In response to the event, The Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club sent an email to Monmouth students, faculty, and staff on Friday, Oct. 9.
The email, sent on behalf of club president Alisse Aquino, stated, “We, the Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club along with other students, faculty, and alumni dedicated to women’s and trans+ rights, are alarmed that The Catholic Campus Ministry hosted a virtual event titled ‘Make Abortion Illegal Again’ this week. We strongly condemn this event. Reproductive rights are imperative to all people who may become pregnant and should not be up for debate.”
The email said that students who attended the event reported the guest speaker shared misinformation and was unwilling to have an open dialogue on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights.
“The event was insensitive and degrading to our students who have needed abortions and to those who may need them in the future,” Aquino wrote. “We assert that this program fails to align with Monmouth University’s mission of promoting diversity, inclusion and equity for all campus members.”
The email prompted a thread of replies from students and faculty who shared both opposing or concurring perspectives on the topic of Tuesday’s event.
“The Monmouth University College Republicans are proud to step up and support the Catholic Campus Ministry’s ‘Make Abortion Illegal Again’ event hosted on Monday evening,” wrote Daniel Quimby, President of the Monmouth University College Republicans, in the thread. “As a campus club with diversity of thought surrounding the issue of abortion and one that promotes free speech, we believe that everyone should take issue regarding the current debate on abortion.”
Quimby continued, “I attended the event to show my support for the efforts against abortion. I found it extremely hypocritical for the Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club, among other campus organizations and students, to say they support free speech yet ‘condemn’ the event and attempt to shut it down via the University.”
The Catholic Campus Ministry promoted this event on their Instagram page (@ccm_mu) on Sept. 24. “We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more, whether you are pro-life, pro-choice, or undecided, to register. We welcome all opinions and want to see you,” the caption reads.
Abigail Miller, President of The Catholic Campus Ministry, said in a statement to The Outlook that as a Catholic community, the organization believes life must be protected from conception to natural death.
“We are grateful that Students for Life of America and their President, Kristan Hawkins, provided our students with a factual presentation, that explained in-depth, what an abortion is in each trimester of pregnancy, what a post-Roe America will look like, and how we can help women and their families post-Roe,” Miller said. “Free speech on college campuses must be protected and we look forward to hosting more Pro-Life events in the future as well as supporting women in crisis pregnancy situations.”
Gerard Scharfenberger Ph.D., Instructor of Anthropology, replied to the chain, “Am I missing something, or do we have first amendment rights in this country? Just because a particular person or organization holds a different view than another group does not mean they do not have the right to express those views, or worse, need that right to be restricted in any way.”
He continued, “I have always felt at Monmouth University that we are champions of diversity. That diversity must include diversity of thought.”
University President Patrick F. Leahy commented on the email exchange, “As the president of a private, non-sectarian university, I support—indeed, welcome—the free exchange of differing viewpoints among our students, faculty, and staff.”
“While the pro-life contingent has a right to host a speaker ‘on campus’ advocating its position, I equally support the pro-choice contingent’s right to demonstrate against it, thereby also exercising their own freedom of speech,” Leahy said.
He does not believe the University should take a stance on a topic like this, but rather use its position, as an institution of higher learning, to create opportunities for “serious, intellectual, and respectful dialogue around sensitive issues.”
Similarly, Johanna Foster, Ph.D., the Helen McMurray Bennett Endowed Chair in Social Ethics and an Associate Professor of Sociology, explained that “students on all sides of any political debate have the right to hold events on campus, and invite speakers to address the university community on issues of concern to them.” She agrees with the idea that “a university is the place where all ideas, however abhorrent or offensive to some, can and should be fiercely debated.”
Still, there are limits to free speech, like threats of violence while engaged in heated debates. But not even impolite disagreement is a violation of First Amendment rights, Foster noted. “What we need now is actually more genuine speech about these fundamental issues, which are almost always about power, not less speech,” she said. “Frankly, I rarely see members of the MU community engage together, and publicly, in the challenging debates of our times. We could use a little more of that, if you ask me,”
Quimby believes the Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club’s email raises questions about free speech, specifically their condemnation of the event and statement that reproductive rights should not be up for debate. He stated, “Isn’t a university supposed to be where we share and learn new ideas?”
He also questions the use of the word “misinformation,” citing reports from students who were at the event. Still, he appreciates the resources provided in Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club email, even though he does not agree with them. “I will stay consistent with the fact that the Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club is using their free speech and platform to promote resources, which is a good thing, no matter their position on the issue,” Quimby said.
Aquino provided an official statement on behalf of her club. “The Gender Studies and Intersectionality Club are proponents of freedom of speech. These freedoms include our rights to criticize and condemn the perspective shared in the event.
PHOTO TAKEN by Megan Ruggles
PHOTO TAKEN by Melissa Badamo