Opinion: Free expression bypasses abortion issue

April 8, 2013


— We know Johns Hopkins University is devoted to diversity, because it says so. Its “Diversity and Inclusion Statement,” a classic of the genre, says the university is “committed to sharing values of diversity and inclusion ... by recruiting and retaining a diverse group of students.” Hopkins has an Office of Institutional Equity and a “Diversity Leadership Council” that defines “inclusion” as “active, thoughtful and ongoing engagement with each other.” Unless you are a member of Voice for Life, an anti-abortion group.

Hopkins’ Student Government Association has denied VFL status as a recognized student group, for two reasons: VFL’s website links to other organizations that display graphic images of aborted babies. And VFL plans to engage in peaceful, quiet “sidewalk counseling” outside a local abortion clinic, which the SGA considers “harassment.”

Hopkins’ student conduct code enjoins students “to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas.” And although Hopkins has a stern policy against sexual harassment, it says the purpose of this policy is not “to inhibit free speech or the free communication of ideas by members of the academic community.” Presumably that also applies to other forms of “harassment.”

Suppose such SGA-recognized student groups as the Arab Students Organization, the Black Student Union, the Hopkins Feminists or the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance were to link their websites to provocative outside organizations, or were to counsel persons not to patronize firms with policies those groups oppose. Would the SGA want to deny them recognition as student groups? Of course not. Obviously, the SGA has acted to express animus against the content of VFL’s speech, and to protect students from the discomfort of disagreement.

Persons who do not want to see the images to which VFL links need never see them. Nevertheless, an SGA member says pro-life demonstrations make her feel “personally violated, targeted and attacked at a place where we previously felt safe and free to live our lives.” If encountering ideas she does not share makes her feel this way, she is unsuited to a proper academic setting. She may, however, be suited to Hopkins, which should be embarrassed, if it still can be.

Hopkins’ institutional intolerance would be boring were it simply redundant evidence of academia’s commitment to diversity in everything but thought. It is, however, indicative of the increasingly extreme ambitions and tactics of those operating under the anodyne rubric of “choice.” In Florida recently, a legislative debate that reverberated in the U.S. Senate in the 1990s was revived concerning the right to choose infanticide.

In 1996, the Senate debated outlawing partial-birth abortion, whereby a baby is delivered feet first until only the top of the skull remains in the birth canal, then the skull is punctured and its contents emptied. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., asked two pro-choice senators, Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., this: If the baby slips entirely out of the birth canal before it can be killed, should killing it still be a permissible choice? Neither senator would say no. In a 1999 debate, Santorum asked Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., whether she agreed that “once the child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed.” Boxer said: “I think that when you bring your baby home ... ”

Sort of like driving a new car away from the dealership. But, then, what principle forbids killing a baby at home if its crying interrupts the parents’ enjoyment of Jay Leno’s monologue?

Recently in Florida, Alisa LaPolt Snow, representing Florida Planned Parenthood organizations, testified against a bill that would require abortionists to provide medical care to babies who survive attempted abortions. Snow was asked: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” Snow replied: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.” She added, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.” To this, a Florida legislator responded: “I think that at that point the patient would be the child struggling on a table, wouldn’t you agree?”

Planned Parenthood, which receives more than $500 million in government subsidies, is branching out, expanding its mission beyond the provision of abortions to the defense of consumers’ rights: If you pay for an abortion, you are owed a dead baby.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Terry Jacobsen 5 years, 2 months ago

By all means lets criticize a well known and accomplished author for the way he writes instead of admitting that the questions he asks and the points he makes are valid.

Orwell 5 years, 2 months ago

The only thing George Will has accomplished is is the overlay of a pseudointellectual style on an endless stream of plutocratic, oligarchic partisanship.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Those on both sides of this very emotional debate do that. At a minimum, both sides should at least recognize that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Next column, George will tell us how oppressed the Phelpses are.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

Luckily your ilk has failed in their attempts to deprive WBC of their constitutional rights. You can't oppress the Phelpses so Mr Will will probably not do an opinion piece about it.

Kathy Theis-Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

Yeah, except the university gets to choose which student groups represent their school. Has nothing to do with free speech.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

If it is a state school, they have to treat all groups the same.

Kathy Theis-Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

Once they are a group, maybe, but anti choice is not a protected class. I am giving you a link to Johns Hopkins Univ, a PRIVATE ENTITY, which will lead you to the very simple policies in place giving them the authority to choose student groups representing the university. I'll let you figure out which ones.



jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Although I usually think Will is muddled and off-base, I think he makes some good points here.

If you really believe in free speech and the inclusion of diverse viewpoints, then you have to accept that will sometimes make you uncomfortable. Claiming to believe in that, but then denying those who make you uncomfortable the right to express their views is inconsistent.

That's why the ACLU opposes restrictions on "hate speech".

And, although I might agree that the organization discussed is engaged in "harassment" outside abortion clinics, that might easily apply as well to any number of "protests" by other organizations, ones that liberal folks have no problem with.

If liberals want to create their own versions of "acceptable" and "unacceptable" ideas/speech, I suppose they can, but they shouldn't kid themselves that they're really supporting freedom of speech and the inclusion of diverse viewpoints.

Michael LoBurgio 5 years, 2 months ago

Santorum: Our Abortion Was Different

Rick Santorum is one dangerously confused denialist. The former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential aspirant is best known for his inability to associate his professed compassion for life at the level of the zygote, with the physical realities of human sexuality. He has equated loving same-sex relationships to bestiality. He is opposed to abortion under any circumstance. Almost.

In October, 1996, his wife Karen had a second trimester abortion. They don’t like to describe it that way. In his 2004 interview with Terry Gross, Santorum characterizes the fetus, who must be treated as an autonomous person, as a practically a gunslinging threat, whom the mother must murder in self-defense. Karen has had to justify her decision to save her own life by explaining that if she died her other children would have lost a mother.

Republican extremists in Congress and the statehouses propose to make abortion illegal even if it would save the mother’s life. Even the Santorums admit they would make that choice, while claiming that they didn’t.


voevoda 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, Liberty, in the strict scientific sense, zygotes that implant are parasites.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

See Mr Agnostik, that is the proper way to climb off the fence and give an answer. Mr Voevoda, we may not agree much, but that was a refreshingly direct answer. Kudos.

Now let's see if BlueKansas can bring themselves to say the same thing.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

It's biology, which is a science. It isn't philosophy. Science doesn't trespass.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 2 months ago

Why, that wasn't an abortion! How dare you! That was a "medically induced miscarriage"! Don't you know the difference?
I think it's quite sad that Karen Santorum has to apologize for saving her own life.

voevoda 5 years, 2 months ago

George Will attempts to make a case against abortion through a slippery-slope sort of argument: If late term abortion is permitted, then there is nothing to stop infanticide. Therefore, late term abortion must be prohibited. If mid-term abortion is permitted, then there is nothing to stop late term abortion. Therefore, mid-term abortion must be prohibited. If early term abortion is permitted, then there is nothing to stop mid-term abortion. Therefore, early term abortion must be prohibited. If expelling a fertilized egg is permitted, then there is nothing to stop early term abortion. Therefore, expelling a fertilized egg must be prohibited.

But the same kind of logic can be used to prohibit any and all activities that could result in someone's death. Such as use of medicines. Medical treatment. Operating a motor vehicle. Common sense needs to take over, instead of the emotionalism George Will displays here.

And yes, there is a distinct difference between an abortion and infanticide. It's the same difference between shooting an intruder who comes into your house, and chasing an intruder who fled your house down the street and shooting him there. The first, under our laws, is self-defense, and legal. The second, under our laws, is manslaughter, maybe even murder.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

Abortion is to infanticide like crushing a skull is to murder.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

And that self-defense is composed of crushing the skull of a fetus. If a woman is afraid enough of a baby that she feels compelled to have it's skull crushed, I suppose that could be legitimate self-defense.

Thanks for your repair.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

Because they are foreign organisms living in and feeding off a host. There is nothing unhealthy about telling the truth. Hiding from the truth is unhealthy.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Except that he didn't argue they didn't have the right to do it.

He argued that they're inconsistent and hypocritical because they tout themselves as believing in inclusion and the free expression of ideas, while acting contrary to those ideas.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

I have no idea.

But, they may very well be linking to sites that some find offensive, don't you think?

Free speech and the free expression of ideas inevitably runs into the fact that people find a variety of versions of that offensive. One can either be on the side of freedom, and accept some offense, or one can take offense and insist that which offends one be forbidden.

Some would find various protests and political activity by those groups offensive - does that mean Hopkins should ban them?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Will you use the "privately owned and operated" line when it's Catholic colleges or Catholic hospitals who desire to restrict certain things that run contrary to their religious beliefs?

(And don't use the "well, they get money from the government" line, because so does Johns Hopkins, so their restrictions on freedom of speech must be equally offensive as the freedom of religion restrictions that those Catholic institutions place on others. Or is restricting freedom of speech more offensive to the Constitution than restricting freedom of religion?)

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

That's fine - nobody's argued they don't have the right to do it.

They're just hypocrites, that's all.

Kathy Theis-Getto 5 years, 2 months ago

You mean hypocritical like chick fil a decided to speak out about homosexuals? A business who touts its christian beliefs while treating god's children in an egregious manner? Probably, but so what? I don't spend my money at chick fil a, I suggest not contributing any money to John's Hopkins if you disagree with their policies. Free speech is moot.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

No - for many, their Christian beliefs seem to include a very negative view of homosexuality, so it's not hypocritical.

I don't, and wasn't planning to contribute any money to JH, nor do I eat at CFA.

The point remains (and I've said numerous times that they have the right to do it) that they're hypocrites for claiming to believe in the free expression of ideas while simultaneously suppressing certain ideas.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 2 months ago

Just out of curiosity, does Will's advocation for the presence of a pro forced birth group on Johns Hopkins' campus also extend to advocacy for the presence of a pro woman group on the campus of Liberty U.?
Yeah. I thought not.
Go home George. You're drunk.

tomatogrower 5 years, 2 months ago

"Hopkins has an Office of Institutional Equity and a “Diversity Leadership Council” that defines “inclusion” as “active, thoughtful and ongoing engagement with each other.” "

Most of the groups I see at abortion clinics do not practice active, thoughtful" engagement. Mostly it's harassment.


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