"[W]elcome to the middle ages,” one Penn student said on Facebook in response to Wharton sophomore Eric Hoover posting in the Class of 2019 page that he was looking to form a pro-life group on campus.
Hoover is spearheading an effort to form a Penn chapter of the national pro-life group, Students for Life of America. SFLA advocates for the protection of “pre-born children” and the outlawing of abortion.
Approximately 15 students have indicated interest to join Hoover. Together, they are looking to formally register as a student organization with the Penn administration.
The group has two main goals: first, to reach out to women facing unplanned pregnancies and connect them to pro-life resource centers. Second, to advocate that abortion is morally and legally reprehensible by setting up booths on Locust Walk and hosting events on campus.
The group said their stance is that life begins at fertilization. They believe that a zygote is equivalent to a new-born baby after it has been delivered, and hence that abortion is “the intentional killing of an innocent human being,” Hoover said.
Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project and lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies department said that while pro-life groups are entitled to hold beliefs on the definition of life based on their religious or philosophical theories, they are not entitled to impose them on women.
“People reach their own moral decisions on abortions,” Tracy said. “There are plenty of people who are pro-choice who would never have an abortion.”
“The legal question is does the government get the right to make that decision and have that kind of control over a woman’s body. The answer is: no, they do not,” she added.
According to a widely-cited study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, approximately 5 percent of rape victims between the ages of 12 and 45 become pregnant following their rape. Hoover said that his group advocates against abortion even in the case of rape.
“It is absolutely vital that the pro-life community shows compassion for these women,” Hoover said. “Rape is a horrific act of violence... possibly the worst crime imaginable. I don’t think that you’re going to solve the act of violence like that with another act of violence.”
College sophomore Lea Eisenstein, one of the students who responded when Hoover posted an invitation to join Students for Life in the class of 2019 Facebook group, disagreed.
“[This position] shows a fundamental ignorance of the emotional and physical toll of pregnancy on woman, especially when it is brought about by force,” she said.
Hoover has previously worked with the pro-life group Created Equal, known to have campaigned against abortion with signs showing of aborted fetuses. One of Created Equal’s projects is “Killers among us” which states on its website that its goal is to publicize the identity of “abortionists and their enablers.”
In an email statement, board members for the Penn Association for Gender Equity expressed concern over the kind of “shame tactics” used by groups such as Created Equal.
“A protest or large action [promoting the pro-life agenda] can be very triggering and alienating to someone who has had an abortion or considered having one,” PAGE said.
Hoover said Students for Life does not intend to use shame tactics.
“We believe that abortion is wrong because it is the intentional killing of an innocent human being,” he said, “but our goal is not to shame women.”
In response to his remarks, Tracy said, “Since Roe v. Wade was decided over 40 years ago, 40 to 50 million American women have had abortions. They are not ashamed.”
Carole Joffe, a sociologist and professor at the University of California’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, added that it seems difficult for pro-lifers to take the stance on abortion as murder while claiming that their intent is not to shame.
She also said that she hopes Students of Life will stay away from characterizing women having abortions as “victims” and abortion providers as “murderers.” This rhetoric denies women’s moral agency, infantilizes them and demonizes abortion providers, Joffe, who has written multiple books on reproductive rights, said. As of 2015, violence against abortion providers has killed at least eleven people in the U.S.
Students for Life said they do not intend to be forceful with their message. In the case that they reach out to a female student considering abortion and she decides to go through with the procedure, the group would accept that as her decision.
“We will make what we believe is a reasonable case, but if she chooses to go through with [the abortion], that is her decision. That doesn’t mean we think it is right,” Hoover said.
Last Wednesday, when Hoover canvassed interest for Students for Life in the Class of 2019 Facebook group, he received swift backlash from students.
Hoover said he is aware that most students at Penn are pro-choice, but hopes that they will be open-minded towards Students for Life. He added that he hopes students will stay away from attacking him and members of his group when discussing the issue of abortion.
Tracy, who formerly worked as the director of the Penn Women’s Center, agreed that there is a need to respect freedom of speech, particularly on a college campus.
“I am as opposed as anyone towards the pro-life agenda,” Tracy said. “However, they have a right to be here. People should not be afraid that [a pro-life group] is here [on campus], but certainly, they can challenge them.”
Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Eric Hoover saying, "I don’t think that you’re not going to solve the act of violence like that with another act of violence.” The word "not" was erroneously included and has since been removed. The DP regrets the error.