Princeton Office of Religious Life helps raise money for PP

Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life (ORL) recently cosponsored a rally in support of Planned Parenthood, much to the consternation of several collegiate religious organizations.

According to a post on the ORL’s Facebook page, Associate Dean of Religious Life Theresa S. Thames and Program Assistant Maya Wahrman “fully enjoyed cosponsoring and attending the Run 4 All Women New Jersey rally for Plannedparenthood” on August 11.

The rally was a precursor to the main event the following day, during which six local women ran all the way from Princeton to the Philadelphia City Hall to “raise visibility and funds for Planned Parenthood of NJ—and to advance the social dialogue about equitable healthcare, women’s rights, and empowered wellness more broadly!”

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Campus Reform reached out to the ORL for clarification, and was told that the event had been organized by Associate Dean of the College Dr. Khristina Gonzalez in her “personal role as a Run4AllWomen ambassador,” but was also cosponsored by the ORL and attended by two ORL administrators.

Regarding the purpose of the ORL’s participation in the event, Thames stated that the ORL is “committed to the health and well-being of all people including access to quality healthcare.”

Campus Reform also asked how the ORL reconciles its support of Planned Parenthood with the deeply held belief, represented by several ORL-recognized chaplaincies, that abortion—of which Planned Parenthood is the largest provider in the US—is gravely immoral.

Wahrman responded that the ORL is “an interfaith office that oversees and welcomes many organizations with diverse beliefs, adding that the office “does not take a stance on the issue of abortion (much like the university)” because “the total health care of all people is of concern to us, and Planned Parenthood provides a wide range of critical services to women and men.”

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Several student organizations and ORL-recognized chaplaincies, however, raised objections to the ORL’s participation in a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood.

”Princeton Pro-Life is deeply hurt and saddened by the Office of Religious Life’s decision to cosponsor the Run4AllWomen in an effort to raise money for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider,” the group told Campus Reform. “We affirm the essential dignity of the human person as well as an unborn child’s right to life, and we continue to work toward a future in which the right to life and freedom of religion (implicitly endorsed by ORL) are both understood to be indispensable to a larger, coherent philosophy of human rights.

“When personhood is denied, so too are religious freedoms, so by demonstrating support for an abortion provider, ORL is rather demonstrating a lack of commitment to religious freedom,” the pro-life student group added. “This is, of course, antithetical to its professed mission to ‘promote the care and support for the many religious and secular communities’ on campus.”

Princeton Pro-Life also disputed the notion that the rally was merely about women’s rights, saying, “we believe that a comprehensive discussion of women’s rights is one that acknowledges the rights of unborn women. Furthermore, we proudly defend the idea that one’s body is one’s own and we celebrate the right to bodily autonomy. Abortion, which is an act of one person forcibly ending another’s life through bodily harm, is therefore in violation of our belief in bodily autonomy.”

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”The ORL’s participation in this event, especially in an official co-sponsoring function, is deeply troubling to me,” Thomas Clark ‘18, president emeritus of the Anscombe Society, told Campus Reform: “The purpose of the Office of Religious Life should be to assist students in living out their religious faith and values, and promoting understanding and engagement across religious lines, not to be divisive by officially co-sponsoring an event that many students of many different faiths would find morally abhorrent.

Asserting that the ORL’s decision ‘will have an alienating effect on the numerous pro-life religious students at Princeton,” Clark complained that “there are so many interfaith causes that religious students can unanimously support, yet the ORL has chosen to co-sponsor a fundraiser for an organization that was founded on a racist and eugenicist ideology and that continues to be, in my opinion, a morally destructive force in America today.”

Fr. Gabe Zeis, T.O.R., chaplain of the Catholic Aquinas Institute, acknowledged that “whatever Planned Parenthood does that does not lead to abortion is a good thing,” but said that this does not excuse overlooking the organization’s involvement in abortion.

“There are many good things organizations such as Planned Parenthood do, but there are things that we as Catholic know to be wrong,” Zeis explained. “The question I raise is do we know the whole truth. If we do we would seek other organizations to support, such as Catholic Charities or our solid organizations that support life fully and give women the care they need as well.”

[RELATED: Pro-life students challenged Christian school’s cozy ties to PP]

Kristan Hawkins, national president of Students for Life of America, was even more scathing in her condemnation of the ORL, calling it “ludicrous for a ‘religious life’ office to celebrate or fundraise for Planned Parenthood,” given that “every day, Planned Parenthood coerces 900 women into believing that abortion is their only option. During each abortion, a human life is ended and the other is negatively changed forever.”

Unless the OLR “was representing a religion that believes it’s okay to kill innocent human beings, then it had no reason to be involved in the Planned Parenthood fundraiser,” Hawkins argued. “Instead, the office should be supporting groups that provide real life-saving and life-changing work, such as the 50+ pregnancy resource centers in New Jersey.”

Conversely, the Rev. Bill Neely, the Unitarian Universalist chaplain, offered a full-throated endorsement of the ORL.

”Congrats to the ORL for participating in the Run 4 All Women in New Jersey,” Neely told Campus Reform. “What a fun and healthy and to support the essential work of Planned Parenthood, which provides excellent health care to people who may not have any other source of assistance. I’m grateful for and inspired by ORL’s involvement.”

The Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice group was similarly effusive in its praise for the ORL’s involvement in the event.

”Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice supports and advocates for the right of every woman to decide her own reproductive future, regardless of religious affiliations, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and/or sexuality. Reproductive justice is an intersectional issue, involving decisions that cannot be divorced from other aspects of a woman’s life,” the group told Campus Reform. “The Office of Religious Life co-sponsoring and attending the Run 4 All Women NJ rally for Planned Parenthood sends the strong message that the ORL recognizes and supports Planned Parenthood’s mission to give all women access to services to manage their reproductive health.

”We are excited to see this show of support from ORL, especially at a time when women’s reproductive rights are increasingly under threat,” the statement concluded. “Access to basic, vital healthcare such as that which Planned Parenthood provides is something we should all support.”

UPDATE: The Princeton Baha’i Club provided the following statement expressing its mixed feelings on the matter:

”The topic of abortion is a bit unclear in the Baha’i Faith as the holy writings make no direct mention of abortion, although pre-marital intercourse is strictly forbidden. Different leaders of the Baha’i Faith, throughout the past two centuries, have also made some statements on abortion that don’t fully agree. 

”After consulting some of the Baha’is in my community, however; it seems that, while an abortion simply to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is forbidden, in situations that may have negative consequences on the woman or child’s health, the woman should choose whether or not she wants to abort. This means that organizations like Planned Parenthood, which provide abortion services, should be supported in order to allow women in these sorts of situations the choice to abort. 

”So, the Princeton Baha’i Club respects the Office of Religious Life’s decision to participate in the rally in support of Planned Parenthood.”