By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973 and long before, the issue of abortion has continued to play a role in American politics. For some voters across the political spectrum, a candidate’s voting record either for pro-choice or pro-life becomes the key determining factor in deciding their vote. Gov. Andrew Cuomo just recently passed what’s referred to as the late-term abortion bill, and with it the issue of abortion was yet again propelled into the national spotlight, even being mentioned by President Trump in his State of the Union address. However, it is not only the halls of Congress where this conversation is relevant, but in the halls and classrooms of Niagara University as well.
Niagara is different from other Catholic organizations that find themselves connected to the church. In the first place, Niagara’s Catholic tradition is rooted in the mission of Saint Vincent de Paul and is an organization that is identified with a religious order, yet still subject to the bishop of the diocese when claiming Catholic identity. The second is that Niagara is an educational institution and with it there is intense focus on the perpetuation of academic exploration.
Professor Hinkley in his capacity as an educator remarked that “As a university in the Catholic and Vincentian tradition we are positioned optimally to engage in this form of inquiry and to promote civil dialogue in a spirit of intellectual inquiry and mutual respect.” I tend to agree with him and even further am of the mindset that if we as a society are unable to engage in fervent discussion of the issues on a college campus then where is that dialogue to take place?
Recently the NUSGA body voted to approve funding for an organization that focuses on the issue of abortion on campus: the Fight for Life Club. In the interest of fairness, the discussion of the pro-life component of their organization is just one part of a larger club mission centered around all aspects of respect for human life. However, initially the club was denied approval and their constitution was amended to focus more strongly on education rather than outright advocacy. In this sense I think a pro-choice club deserves the same place on our campus.
“Since my joining the NUSGA in the Fall of 2015, no pro-choice club has been presented to the NUSGA,” said Cheyenne Freely, the current student body president. She further added that “It is so important to realize that ‘inclusivity’ is not just including the ‘left’ exclusively or including the ‘right’ exclusively, it is being inclusive of all.” President Freely noted that if a pro-choice club followed the same procedures as the Fight for Life club she could see no reason for NUSGA to deny them approval.
While speaking solely as an educator for this interview, Professor Hinkley also serves as the General Counsel for the university. When asked whether he is aware of any official policy banning students from forming a pro-choice club he had this to say: “This would be the first I’ve heard of it. I am not aware of any policy that preemptively bans students from forming a club or organization based on content or viewpoint. If there is a perception that such a policy exists, I would be interested in interrogating the basis for it.”
Father Rooney agreed that there is a place for the discussion of the issue of abortion on our campus. He noted that the university is currently in the process of forming a faculty colloquium to breakdown the issue from all possible viewpoints.
“I want to have a place on this campus where we can engage in conversation about these issues and one can show where he or she is well-reasoned and well-informed and that that is reciprocated,” said Father Rooney.
When asked about whether there is a place for a group that advocates for a position contrary to the Fight for Life club he had this to say “If any club supported a position that outright advocated for a position against the teachings of the Catholic Church those components in a club constitution would have to come out.”
The Catholic identity of a university has consequences. The Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II states the following: “One consequence of its essential relationship to the Church is that the institutional fidelity of the University to the Christian message includes a recognition and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals,” (ex corde ecclesiae no. 27).
It may be a lot to expect from our university to allow an organization that actively advocates against what is considered the social teaching of the Catholic church, but maybe advocacy isn’t what is needed for our community. Allow a pro-choice club founded not on advocacy, but in the interest of education, to promote dialogue and to foster communication from people of opposing viewpoints. In an American society where we find ourselves increasingly divided, we should use our connection to one another within a campus community to instill the values of meaningful well-reasoned debate. Let our university serve as an example that a civil discourse is still possible. It is our duty not only as active civic participants in a democratic society, but as members of a university founded under Saint Vincent de Paul. If nothing else, let’s start a conversation and let that be the starting point for creating something new.