RALEIGH — They were rebuffed for the second straight year for inclusion in Women’s Week at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Carolina Women’s Center. Nevertheless, the pro-life student group Carolina Students for Life prevailed in ending the center’s ideological exclusion of them from its web site and programming. While those developments left pro-abortionists on campus hopping mad, the university leadership says they are consistent with UNC-CH’s commitment to openness and valuing of all perspectives.
Last year, the CSFL applied too late to sponsor a pro-life speaker for Women’s Week 2003 events — a mistake CSFL president Stephanie Evans determined not to repeat this year. She started in November 2003 to sponsor two pro-life feminists during Women’s Week 2004. The center seemed open to the idea as well as to linking to the CSFL on its web site — but it abruptly reversed itself two weeks before Women’s Week, announcing it was dropping abortion as a topic and reviewing CSFL’s mission statement before deciding upon its inclusion.
Director Diane Kjervik told The Herald-Sun of Durham the decision was made because Merle Hoffman of the CHOICES Women’s Medical Center, the UNC-CH center’s choice of a pro-abortion speaker to bring “a full range of discussion” of abortion, had decided not to come. Evans said the center had brought in pro-abortion speakers before.
Evans responded to the Women’s Center’s decision in a detailed letter copied to UNC-CH officials and media. Toward the end of the letter, Evans wrote that “what concerns CSFL the most about the Carolina Women’s Center is the fact that they admitted to our leadership in our March 5, 2004 meeting that ‘Choice USA is more compatible with CWC because their mission statement promotes the right for women to choose abortion.'”
Evans continued. “As a public institution, it is your duty to offer both sides of the debate equal time and opportunity in the name of academic freedom if you discuss the issue at all.”
Thanks to Evans’ stand, the Carolina Women’s Center will organize for next fall a forum on abortion to include a pro-life speaker, and it has also met Evans’ other concerns: opening its mailing list server to anyone seeking membership, placing links to the CSFL and other conservative groups on its web site, and officially remaining neutral on the question of abortion.
In doing so, however, the Women’s Center outraged the pro-abortion faction on campus, who argued that the CSFL’s opposition to abortion was “anti-woman” and therefore had no business being affiliated with the center. UNC-CH feminist students Carrie Goodman and Blair Winslow wrote in The Daily Tar Heel April 1 that the CSFL’s position “is to take away women’s reproductive choices, denying women and girls the right to safe, accessible, affordable (and legal) abortions. This endangers women and girls and is thus anti-women,” they wrote. “We would not expect any women’s center to sponsor such a group.”
“While the term ‘for life’ sounds positive, the group’s title obscures the fact that the group is not really supportive of women’s lives, but instead calls for women to refrain from having any power over their own bodies, lives and moral decisions,” wrote UNC-CH feminist student Natalia Deeb-Sossa in the Herald-Sun March 26. “Being anti-choice is being anti-woman, so why should the Carolina Woman’s Center support it?”
North Carolina State University journalism professor Cat Warren wrote in the Independent March 31 that the CSFL and “anti-abortion groups fight against the clearly stated mission of the women’s center: women’s equality,” because “[r]eproductive choice has been at the core of the fight for women’s equality worldwide.”
Warren said the inclusion of the CSFL was “not exactly about” a “marketplace of ideas” on campus, but instead was part of a broader “agenda of conservative groups bent on shutting conversation down, quelling dissent and the free exchange of ideas — while they simultaneously and hypocritically claim that their moves are based on the twin pillars of free speech and fairness.” She complained that UNC-CH was “letting Students for Life run rampant over the mission of the women’s center.”
Furthermore, she said, “I’d rather we didn’t sound as though we’d all been coached by public relations teams, mouthing nonsense about looking forward to ‘healthy debate’ and ‘invigorating discussions. Because there’s nothing healthy about this debate.”
Despite the opposition this year from the Women’s Center, CSFL still was able to feature for Women’s Week one of the speakers it had invited. Sally A. Winn, vice president of Feminists for Life of America, spoke on the topic of “Refuse to Choose: Reclaiming Feminism.”
“My rights end where my child’s begins. There’s no way to weigh one person’s life over another’s,” Winn told students during her address. “It’s time for both sides to come together and say we refuse to choose between women and children.”