Anti-Abortion Group Wins Recognition at Washington U.

October 25, 2002

By Lindsay Bosslett at The Chronicle of Higher Education

The third time seems to be the charm for a group of law students at Washington University in St. Louis who fought successfully to get their anti-abortion organization recognized by the school’s Student Bar Association.

The group, Law Students Pro-Life, which also opposes euthanasia, and assisted suicide, has been trying since last month to gain recognition in order to receive funds and other privileges given to student organizations. After two failed attempts, it was finally approved by a vote of 27 to 6 last week.

Members of the group, with the help of a national advocacy organization, protested the Student Bar Association’s previous decisions to deny the organization’s application. The bar association had maintained that the group’s focus was “too narrow.”

In its initial rejection letter to Jordan Siverd, chairman of Law Students Pro-Life, the bar association said that to be considered a true “pro-life” organization, the group must include an anti-death-penalty provision in its constitution, or consider changing its name.

David Hacker, a member of Law Students Pro-Life, said his group would not change its name or add such a provision to its constitution, and said the denials were “violating our free-speech rights.”

In the end, the group was recognized without having to change its name or adopt an anti-death-penalty plank.

Explaining the Rejections

Elliott Friedman, the bar association’s president, said he had always voted in favor of recognizing the group. He said that the most likely reason that other members of his group changed their minds was because Law Students Pro-Life made more of an effort to attract new members, and because of student support for the group on the campus.

One reason that the bar association cited for its initial denials was the failure of the group’s constitution to allow people not agreeing with the group’s ideology to join. Mr. Hacker said that the group had already made its constitution “more facially open” after the first denial, and that the student group has always been open to members with different beliefs.

The dean of the School of Law, Joel Seligman, said that after he became aware that the bar association had turned down the group’s application the second time, he met with members of both groups to discuss the issue.

Mr. Seligman, who recommended to the group that it indicate a willingness to accept people with different views, said that initially the group had no female members, but that it had added a few recently.

He also said that other student organizations on the campus usually send e-mail messages asking new members to join. Although Law Students Pro-Life did this at the beginning of the academic year, it did not receive much response and was “quite reluctant” to try again, he said.

However, the group has since “made more of an effort to attract students with opposing viewpoints,” according to Mr. Friedman.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit educational foundation that focuses on civil liberties, jumped into the fray, supporting Law Students Pro-Life’s efforts to be recognized. The foundation also joined with the American Civil Liberties Union last week to send a letter to the members of the student group showing their support.

“I don’t think we would have reached this outcome without the help of FIRE and the ACLU,” Mr. Siverd said.

“Their advocacy helped make this school a better place.”

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Schools: Washington University in St. Louis Cases: Washington University: Mandatory University Viewpoint