Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 3, 2022

How Religious Colleges View The Dobbs Abortion Decision: Celebration (Liberty), Neutrality (Notre Dame), Condemnation (Emory)

Inside Higher Ed, How Religious Colleges View the Dobbs Decision:

Inside Higher EdThe U.S. Supreme Court on Friday issued a 6-to-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to reverse the long-standing federally protected right to obtain an abortion. ... [A]mong religious colleges, the response has not been uniform. While conservative institutions are celebrating, more moderate or liberal religious colleges have issued neutral statements, and some have even condemned the ruling.

The Victory Lap
Liberty University, the evangelical university in Virginia founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1971—shortly before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973—is among the religious universities noting their long-standing opposition to abortion.

“Today, on behalf of Liberty University, I want to express our gratitude to Almighty God for the landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. While this does not effectively end abortion in America, it is a monumental step in the direction of protecting life and placing that decision squarely in the hands of the American people,” Liberty University president Jerry Prevo said in a statement released Friday. “For nearly 50 years, Liberty University students, faculty, and staff have prayed, volunteered, and advocated for the life of mothers and their unborn babies. The Liberty student body has led the way and marched year after year, prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court, and committed their lives to pro-life causes. As Liberty University president, I am proud that we are now officially training the first Post Roe-v-Wade generation of leaders who will be Champions for Christ to continue to advocate for the life of mothers and their unborn babies.” ...

The Catholic University of America likewise celebrated the ruling [President John Garvey, On Dobbs: Let's Build a Civilization of Love]. ...

Treading Lightly
Other religious institutions were less direct. The Reverend John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, offered a seemingly neutral statement.

“As a Catholic university, Notre Dame is committed to the sanctity of all human life, and I have for many years joined with others in advocating for the protection of unborn life. We acknowledge the divisions among people of good will on the question of abortion, and the controversy that has endured in our nation for the past fifty years,” Father Jenkins wrote. “I hope that today’s Supreme Court decision, which returns the question of abortion to voters and their elected representatives, will provide an occasion for sober deliberation and respectful dialogue. We must work with those who share our views and particularly with those who don’t, as we examine the profound and complex moral, legal and social questions involved. We urge everyone to bring to these discussions a generous spirit and, above all, strive to establish laws, policies and programs that ensure equality for women and support for mothers and their children.” ...

Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, issued a statement that seemed to straddle both sides [President Eduardo M. Peñalver, Message on Supreme Court Ruling]. ...

A Rare Condemnation
Emory University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church—and located in Georgia, where abortion could soon be banned—issued a statement disagreeing with the Supreme Court decision.

A statement from Emory president Gregory L. Fenves called the ruling “a painful regression.” Fenves also warned of the challenges to come, including for Emory’s obstetrics program. “The Supreme Court ruling will affect legislation in many states, including Georgia,” he wrote. “As a university and as an employer, Emory is highly likely to face new limits on the reproductive health care coverage we can offer our students, faculty, and staff. We are working closely with partner organizations throughout the state to review and adapt to these changes. We are also collaborating with national associations to make sure health care students, residents, fellows, and providers can continue to train in—and practice—world-class obstetrics at Emory.” ...

Unpacking the Responses
Colleges, like businesses, have brands to worry about. And how colleges communicate about this Supreme Court decision—among other issues—signals what they value as an institution. Messages are tailored to their constituents: employees, alumni and current and prospective students. For some religious colleges, their statements on the Dobbs decision could be easily linked to the values they’ve long espoused. Others struck a more nuanced tone, trying to appease diverse constituencies.

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