The pro-abortion legal activist organization Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) recently changed its name and expanded its mission, but even though the goals of the organization are in direct conflict with Catholic moral teaching, at least 13 student chapters are active on the campuses of Catholic university law schools.
Last June, LSRJ officially morphed into If/When/How, “an organization that trains, networks, and mobilizes law students and legal professionals within and beyond the legal system to champion reproductive justice.” The new shorter but less descriptive name reflects the group’s “efforts to demand that all people … have the ability to decide if, when, and how to create and sustain families.” With its new name and increased size — including legal professionals and not just law students — the organization wants to take steps to push the “reproductive justice” movement forward.
What’s most significant for Catholics and Catholic universities about If/When/How’s lengthy explanation of “reproductive justice” is that it boils down to removing all legal barriers to abortion, contraception, sterilization, etc. while attempting to force health care providers, including Catholic health professionals, to provide these “services” even if they violate their conscience and religious freedom. The group also wants taxpayer-funded abortions.
The organization claims that the U.S. “legal system should support and advance reproductive justice for all.” If/When/How aims to accomplish that goal in part by asking law students to organize chapters of the organization at their respective law schools, campaign for their schools to add reproductive rights law and justice courses, and host activism events on campus.
If/When/How also has an expanded mission. The group established an official partnership with the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law to achieve three “long-term strategic initiatives”: overturn Harris. v. McRae, which prevented taxpayer funding of abortion through Medicaid; abolish welfare family caps; and decriminalize “self-induced abortion,” where women use “pharmaceutical pills, traditional herbs, or other means” to kill their unborn children.
If/When/How Executive Director Sabrina Andrus explained support for self-induced abortion in November during a pro-abortion conference the group co-sponsored at Georgetown University: “We believe firmly that for the right to terminate a pregnancy to be a reality for all, there must be a range of safe, effective and affordable methods to use in anyone’s preferred setting.”
LSRJ claimed to have student chapters at the Catholic law schools of Fordham University, Saint Louis University, Loyola University Chicago, University of San Diego, DePaul University, Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco, Loyola Marymount University, Seattle University and the University of Detroit Mercy. A chapter was also listed at Georgetown Law with a note that it was not officially sponsored by the university.
If/When/How currently lists chapters at all of the same Catholic law schools with the additions of Loyola University New Orleans and Boston College, but some of the chapters are not officially recognized on campus.
Colin Watrin, assistant director for admission and student life at Seattle University Law School, told The Cardinal Newman Society that there is not currently a recognized student organization by that name at Seattle University Law. Similarly, Jill Klees, director of law student life at Santa Clara University, told the Newman Society, “We do not have a law student organization or chapter of If/When/How at SCU School of Law.” While included on the website of If/When/How, the student chapter at the Boston College Law School is not listed on the schools’ official list of student organizations. A request for clarification as to the status of the student chapter was not returned by Boston College Law before the publication of this article. The student chapter at Georgetown Law includes the disclaimer at the top of their website “not sponsored or funded by [the] University.”
Requests to the administrations of the Catholic universities with active If/When/How chapters for comments on Catholic identity conflicts of hosting a pro-abortion organization on campus were not returned before publication.
The Newman Society also reached out to If/When/How chapters about the conflict between their advocacy and the teachings of the Catholic Church. A representative from the chapter at Fordham University told the Newman Society, “The Jesuit philosophy celebrates differences in opinion and asks our community to respectfully engage in dialogue. Our Fordham If/When/How chapter believes firmly that all people should have the rights and access to the resources they need to decide how and when to create families, including prenatal care, contraception, abortion, and access to child care.”
The representative also gave the troubling response: “Not all Catholic students within our student body have homogenous views on what it means to be Catholic.”
In August 2015, Anne Hendershott, professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center at the Newman Guide-recommended Franciscan University in Steubenville, documented a number of issues with LSRJ chapters at Catholic universities in Crisis Magazine. LSRJ “is a radical pro-abortion organization that is intentionally targeting Catholic law schools and Catholic institutions,” Hendershott wrote. “Why else would the dissident organization Catholics for Choice partner with them? Their goal is to marginalize Catholic teachings on life.”
“With blog posts like ‘When Hospitals Cause Problems Rather Than Fix Them,’ which decry the ‘withholding of treatment by Catholic hospitals,’ to the honoring of late-term abortion providers, LSRJ appears to go out of its way to denigrate Catholic teachings on life,” she continued.
Last February, The Cardinal Newman Society reported on the public abortion advocacy of the LSRJ chapter at Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Law on the group’s Facebook page, including uploading an image to their page with text stating, “KEEP ABORTION SAFE AND LEGAL.” Just a few months prior, the group attempted to hold a pro-Planned Parenthood event on campus. Despite their blatant abortion advocacy, SLU President Dr. Fred Pestello expressed his support for the group at the time.
“As a Jesuit university, we must be open to discussing any and all issues,” Pestello wrote in a letter obtained by the Newman Society. “In doing so, we are not compromising our faith, but rather following in the rich history of Jesuit education grounded in open and rigorous inquiry.”
Just last month, the SLU chapter co-sponsored with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri an off-campus screening of the documentary Abortion: Stories Women Tell followed by a panel discussion with “experts on abortion access in Missouri.”
Still Against Church Teaching
If/When/How has retained every anti-Catholic aspect of its mission and purpose from LSRJ that should cause it to be banned from Catholic universities.
If/When/How provides resources to law students in the form of toolkits and issue briefs. One of the toolkits describes abortion providers as “Human Rights Defenders.” The kit provides materials for the facilitation of a panel discussion on the topic that “explores how access to abortion can be (and often is) framed as a human right, what remedies are available for violations of human rights standards, federal law, and local ordinances, and how those who provide abortion care face a multitude of challenges while defending and fulfilling this right.”
Among the numerous issue briefs provided by the organization are those entitled “Abortion in the Americas,” “Regulation of Pregnancy,” “Reproductive Justice in the Transgender Community”— which outlines advocacy for helping people who identify as transgender obtain a sex reassignment surgery — and “Reproductive Justice for LGBTQ Individuals,” which promotes marriage between two people who have same-sex attraction and adoption by couples of the same sex.
If/When/How’s expanded activities include pushing for more academic writing on lawyering for reproductive justice and increasing the training of law students so as to “ingrain” in them the concepts of reproductive justice “from the beginning of their legal career.”
One of the stated goals of the organization is “to increase the number of reproductive rights law and justice (RRLJ) courses taught in law schools.” According to a survey conducted by the organization, 26 law schools — or 13 percent of the schools accredited by the American Bar Association as of January 2016 — offered courses on as Reproductive Rights Law and Justice (RRLJ) in the 2015-16 academic year. The 26 law schools named in the study included Georgetown University, Seattle University, Fordham University, Loyola University New Orleans and Santa Clara University.
If/When/How has an ongoing campaign for increasing the number of RRLJ courses at law schools. The reasons the organization gives for this campaign include forming students into “effective advocates” who will further the agenda of the “reproductive justice” movement.
Faithful Catholic Law Schools
Catholic Law schools are subject to the distinctive mission of Catholic universities illuminated in Ex corde Ecclesiae to teach truth. A Catholic law school has an obligation not only to provide an education about the foundations of law, but also to provide insights from Revelation and the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
For example, the mission statement of Ave Maria School of Law, a law school affiliated with but not a part of the Newman Guide–recommended Ave Maria University, outlines how the school’s Catholic identity informs its educational mission.
Ave Maria School of Law offers an outstanding legal education in fidelity to the Catholic Faith as expressed through Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church. University legal education began in Catholic universities, and Catholic law schools have been the bearers of a tradition that safeguards the dignity of the human person and the common good. Ave Maria School of Law affirms Catholic legal education’s traditional emphasis on the only secure foundation for human freedom — the natural law written on the heart of every human being. We affirm the need for society to rediscover those human and moral truths that flow from the nature of the human person and that safeguard human freedom.
The policy for allowing students to form chapters of national organizations at the Ave Maria School of Law stipulates that “the organization must be consistent with the Law School’s mission,” Kaye Castro, associate dean for student and administrative affairs told the Newman Society. Castro also noted that “if a group wants to form a chapter of a national organization, the bylaws and activities of that national group are subject to the same review.”
Ave Maria and The Catholic University of America (CUA) are the two colleges recommended in the Newman Guide that have law schools. At both institutions, there are student organizations that work to uphold and share the Church’s teachings on the value and dignity of human life.
The Lex Vitae Society is the pro-life student organization at the Ave Maria School of Law. In addition to attending the March for Life, the society holds events promoting Respect Life Month and Adoption Awareness Month.
The Saint John Paul II Guild of Catholic Lawyers has a chapter at CUA. The group is dedicated to “the promotion of justice in the law and the protection and advancement of the intrinsic value and dignity of the human person.”
According to the group’s website, it aims to promote the study of Catholic social and moral principles while remaining rooted in the authentic and authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church as they relate to law and the legal profession. The Guild hosts numerous events each year, including the Law School Community Memorial Mass, the Mirror of Justice Scholars Lecture series, the Red Mass and the Annual Prayer Vigil for Life.
As Hendershott noted in her Crisis Magazine piece, “Catholic university law schools were not founded to train lawyers to defend notorious abortionists … or to defend the indefensible and barbaric practices of Planned Parenthood.” Yet this is exactly what is happening. Students are being trained to combat the faith teachings that are supposed to be guiding the institution providing their education. If/When/How actively undermines the Church and leads students to sin. This is not the type of activism that should be encouraged or condoned by Catholic universities.