Trigger Warning - Miscarriages/Abortion, Pregnancy/Childbirth, Sexual Violence/Assault, Sexism/Misogyny, Transphobia, Homophobia
April 25, 2020
Students of Case Western Reserve University:
We write today with great disappointment of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), with a dissent for the recent passage of the bill to recognize Students for Life, and with a petition for a referendum to be held. This morning, the USG passed the bill for the recognition of a CWRU chapter of the pro-life student organization, Students for Life. The vote was 24-8-1, with 24 members in favor of recognizing the organization. Nationally, Students for Life operates with the goal to completely abolish abortion: a right provided by the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States and a human right recognized by the United Nations.
The representatives of the USG elected to vote anonymously. This choice was nothing more than an act of cowardice. If representatives were not proud of the decision they were making with their vote, they should have reconsidered their stance. Someone in the Slack discussion prior to voting asked how they can represent the student body in a public and transparent roll-call if they are afraid to vote. The answer is very simple: they cannot. With the circulation of the petition and significant student input, every single representative saw the fear many held with the approval of this organization. Most chose to ignore it. Most wanted to vote behind closed doors. Most chose to vote with their personal opinions, rather than consider their constituents’ concerns. If members of the USG truly cared about the concerns raised by constituents, they would have extended the discussion period to allow for more student feedback. They would have voted differently.
The majority of USG representatives have displayed a fundamental lack of understanding for the issue at hand. The tactics of the pro-life movement, mentioned by a club representative (including vigils outside healthcare facilities and tabling in Tinkham Veale University Center), and outlined in the previous petition and attached research, have harmed and will continue to harm the wellbeing of many women and non-binary students. “Ending all abortions” is medically misleading and misguided. This even implies Students for Life are attempting to end spontaneous abortions, also known as “miscarriages.” Seeing as that is medically impossible, messages like these have led to suspicion and some even calling for imprisoning those who have a miscarriage. Additionally, in no other circumstance would a group of students be effectively following other students to medical appointments. Protesting or holding “peaceful vigils” outside of care providers is tantamount to medical terrorism.
The USG was primarily concerned about legality and precedent, however. They were worried about protecting the first amendment rights of students. The first amendment is paramount and important; however, we should be equally as worried about protecting our students’ right to privacy and due process as outlined in the fourteenth amendment. This is used as justification for the Supreme Court of the United State’s (SCOTUS) safeguarding of the right to abortion with a 7-2 vote in the landmark Roe v. Wade case. We must also uphold CWRU's Code of Ethics and stance on reproductive health and sex positivity. The vote to recognize is unethical. This vote is not justice. The SCOTUS has assured us time and again that a right to a safe abortion is protected under the 14th amendment, with any undue burden when receiving one being safeguarded as well albeit under Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The United Nations itself defines reproductive justice as a basic human right. Never in the conversation surrounding the discussion of the Students for Life bill was any of this mentioned nor were concerns about wellbeing adequately acknowledged. If the utmost concern is protecting the Constitution of the United States over the wellbeing of students, even that argument is unfounded. The issue moving forward is the severe willful ignorance many representatives are exhibiting. For a university that prides itself on its research, this is reprehensible.
Further, the first amendment does not protect speech that devolves into targeted threats or harassment, that can incite lawless behavior, or that fosters a continually hostile environment for vulnerable students. To be clear, the plans this organization has brought to light thus far will directly create a hostile environment for vulnerable students. A proper understanding of what the first amendment truly means is necessary for free speech to be utilized as reasoning for the support USG lends this organization. On this campus we pride open-mindedness, dialogue, and the expansion of perspectives. But more importantly, on this campus we shun the creation of a hostile environment for our more vulnerable peers.
A fellow student made this argument well: Biased information is false information. In situations regarding reproductive choices, it’s coercive to present morally-founded opinions to a person making a life-impacting medical decision. CWRU has University Health Services (UHS) and a robust counseling network made up of health professionals, advocates, legal professionals and religious leaders—to allow students to make an informed choice. This choice should be made between professionals and the student. Other students—individuals that do not have higher educational degrees and are, therefore, not professionals in this circumstance—should not be given the platform, nor the money to voice opinions that have long-term biological, social, emotional, and economic implications. Having a child is a greater responsibility than people, who do not have children of their own, truly understand. Students for Life, based on its public mission statement, is an organization that does not provide the resources to support students long term if they are to become parents as a result of interacting with this organization.
Arguments have been posed saying it would be safer for the student body that the club exist under the USG, rather than existing independently on campus. We strongly disagree. USG provides financial and campus resources, a broader platform, and a form of student backing. By being officially recognized, USG allows the club all of these privileges, which ultimately amplify the organization. The amplification of this organization as stated can hurt members of the student body. It cuts off access to their ability to receive unbiased information about their sexual health. By approving the Students for Life with the intent of allowing USG to “keep an eye on them,” USG is effectively communicating that they bear the responsibility for this organization’s actions. They are choosing to amplify their voice through access to USG’s resources. Further, USG has not yet communicated clear methods of risk reduction for the future. The discussion thus far has indicated that several members of USG are unclear as to what “harmful” truly entails. In this instance, no matter how professional, the messaging is harmful. In this instance, this organization branches off of a national organization that has committed a large number of harmful acts. The linkage of the campus organization to the national organization is inherently harmful. If 24 USG members (as tallied by this morning’s vote) have decided against fully considering student input on this sensitive matter, little comfort is found in the idea of USG regulating this organization effectively. We cannot ban this organization from campus. However, it is critical to note that without recognition and support through a student governing body, clubs at CWRU rarely gain traction.
Finally, funds allocated from the student body (the Student Activities Fund) should not go toward a branch of a national organization whose mission revolves around reducing access to healthcare by means of guilting, shaming, and terrorizing vulnerable individuals.
There are concerns that the precedent set by not approving Students for Life would be problematic, leading to a slippery slope to not approving other “single-issue” organizations. The difference here is simple: this organization has the single goal of removing a basic human right defined by the United Nations. Denying recognition to organizations attempting to directly inhibit human rights is a precedent we would like to set. Approving organizations attempting to directly inhibit human rights is the precedent we must avoid.
For the sake of ourselves, the vulnerable students in our population, and every student who signed the previous petition thus far, we are officially petitioning the USG for a referendum vote, under Article XI and XIII of the USG Constitution, to bring the issue to the entire student body. The relevant articles of the USG Constitution are included at the bottom of this petition. Moving forward, we must receive signatures from 10% (~490 students) of the student body for this vote to happen. A referendum will put the decision in the hands of the student body, requiring majority support from at least 20% of the class. Unfortunately, the USG will not accept anonymous signatures or signatures from alumni. All signatures will require a corresponding CaseID. Alumni and graduate students, you may still sign the petition symbolically under the alumni and graduate students page of the sheet and add comments. If including any information in a public sheet concerns you, please email Ginny (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Caleb (email@example.com) with your CaseID, affiliation, and message of support for a referendum. We will keep this list private and only provide it to USG. We understand this is an imperfect system and deeply apologize, especially considering the sensitive nature of this topic.
Since this has been passed, we hope everyone is well aware that accountability now falls to the USG. Thus far, the USG has placed the onus of burden for advocating for our peers on us. This is unacceptable, considering the fact that they are our elected representatives. However, they now have the responsibility of the wellbeing of every single student negatively affected by their decision. The result is on their hands. We do not want any other preventable harm to the mental or physical health of the student body due to these actions. Representatives must take responsibility for their actions and ensure they do not enable further harm to students. We urge you to sign the petition for a referendum vote. You can find the previous petition and a list of student and alumni perspectives here.
We are also so sorry if this process has hurt you in any way. We are here to talk and refer to appropriate resources. Please reach out to us or University Counseling Services if you are hurting. There is a counselor-on-call 24/7 at 216.368.5872. Support through Crisis Text Line is also available to you by texting HOME to 741741. RAINN offers confidential support through a National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673. If you are in need of identity-affirming abortion care and sexual health services in the Cleveland area, Preterm remains open and can be reached at 216-991-4000. If you have thoughts or would like to debrief with peers, please do not hesitate to reach out to us as well. We are a community, and we must stand by each other. A majority must stand with the voices of vulnerable and marginalized students.
All the best,
Virginia Behmer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Caleb Curry (email@example.com)
Naveena Bontha (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jasmine Cuenca (email@example.com)
Nehal Methi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Post-writing endorsements: The Feminist Collective at CWRU, Sunrise CWRU, PERIOD. @ CWRU
It is the position of the petition co-authors that the recognized action-proposals of CWRU Students for Life, a branch of the national organization Students for Life of America, violate the following policies:
“Inappropriate treatment of others, including but not limited to: … Behavior that is intimidating …[or] behavior that endangers the physical or mental health or safety of any person”
“Invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests” and “The university will maintain a safe and secure atmosphere conducive to academic and educational pursuits, the freedom of movement”
Accordingly, the vote to recognize the organization by USG must be overturned. While we respect the validity of a pro-life group to exist on this campus in certain capacities (e.g., meeting-based discussion), the proposed actions of open tabling to promote the club’s philosophies and holding “peaceful vigils” and “sidewalk counseling” at local abortion facilities, specifically Preterm, are in violation of the aforementioned policies and warrant no resources, recognition, or funding from the USG. Preterm is targeted more than most other reproductive and sexual healthcare facilities in the area and is only ten minutes from campus. They provide all legal abortion procedures, compassionate contraceptive and sexual healthcare, and are one of about four LGBTQ+ specific healthcare providers in the Cleveland area. It is worth noting that this branch’s national organization, Students for Life of America, is on a national watch list for anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech.
Abortion is regarded as a human right and abortion-stigma as a barrier to health access by the World Health Organization (cite). Restrictions of abortions has been cited as “torture” by the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights (cite). Various human rights bodies have also cited restrictions as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (cite). In line with these bodies, open tabling utilizing fetal developmental stages is intimidating and tabling itself endangers the mental and physical health of vulnerable populations due to its ability to trigger trauma. The stigmatizing nature of such an organization will also lead to students actively avoiding places of tabling, thus, restricting students’ freedom of movement. The environment created is non-conducive to academic and educational pursuits. Traveling to local abortion facilities, where fellow students access a wide array of reproductive and LGBTQ+ specific care, is a substantial invasion of privacy. The approved organization wrongfully targets marginalized populations in our surrounding community (poor, minority women and the LGBTQ+ community of Greater Cleveland), as well as our own marginalized students. We strongly believe that there will be an inevitable negative impact on our campus community in terms of mental health, should this organization remain approved and funded by the USG.
We also believe that any potential impact of these actions should rest upon the administration, not on our fellow students in the USG.
The Feminist Collective at CWRU’s full statement and signatures can be found here.
PERIOD @ CWRU: “Part of the mission of PERIOD @ CWRU is to advocate for menstrual health and its related issues both on campus and in the greater Cleveland community. With this idea in mind, PERIOD @ CWRU chooses community partners that have similar goals, one of which is Preterm. The executive members of PERIOD @ CWRU would like to endorse this referendum because we cannot support the funding of an organization who intends to use “vigils” to intimidate as a means of inhibiting access to healthcare. While we recognize that freedom of speech for all students should be safeguarded and USG’s role in doing so, we also recognize that rights are protected so long as the exercising of said rights does not infringe upon the rights of others. In this case, USG’s endorsement and funding of SFL and its intended “vigils” would inhibit the right to accessible healthcare in Cleveland - a right that it is vital to protect. As such, PERIOD @ CWRU stands in support of this referendum.”
Sunrise CWRU: “The solutions we proudly champion, such as the Green New Deal, reflect the society-wide transformations we need to create an equitable, sustainable, and just future for all peoples. This must include reproductive justice. We support the call for a student referendum regarding the recognition of an organization as controversial, and potentially harmful, as Students for Life so that student voices, especially those who will be directly impacted by this decision, will be fully heard and recognized.”
RELEVANT USG ARTICLES
Article XI, section D
All legislation passed by the USG shall be subject to repeal by the undergraduate student body in a referendum.
Article XIII. Amendments and Referendums
A referendum is the casting of votes by the undergraduate students of CWRU. Referendums are held for purposes including recalling elected or appointed members of USG, repealing legislation passed by USG, initiating specific action through a vote of USG, and amending the USG constitution.
All legislation passed by the USG shall be subject to repeal by referendum by the student body. Petitions signed by ten percent of the undergraduate students of CWRU shall require a referendum vote. Legislation shall become void if so voted by the majority of those voting during the referendum.
To initiate any USG sponsored referendum, a petition must be signed by ten percent of the undergraduate students of CWRU, or a bill in support of a referendum must be passed by majority of the General Assembly, and presented to the Executive Committee. Recall election referendums are exceptions and require a petition outlined in Article XII Section B.
The referendum must be held within fifteen class days of receiving the petition. If an USG election occurs during this period, the referendum will be held concurrently with the election.
A referendum must be held within fifteen class days after the Executive Committee receives the petition, with the exception of a recall election referendum as described in Article XII Section B. If an USG election occurs during this period, the referendum will be held concurrently with the election.
All referendums require simple majority of at least twenty percent of the undergraduate student body in order to be considered valid, with the exception of recall election referendums as described in Article XII Section B.
Amendments to this Constitution may be proposed to the student body in a referendum.
Proposed amendments, as well as the date, time, and places of voting, shall be published at least once in an all-campus publication before the student body vote.