Princeton University's Office of Religious Life draws criticism for co-sponsoring rally for Planned Parenthood

East Pyne Hall; Princeton University; Princeton, New Jersey | Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Praefcke

Princeton University's Office of Religious Life (ORL) has drawn criticism from pro-life groups for co-sponsoring a rally in support of Planned Parenthood.

Campus Reform reported that the ORL co-sponsored the Run 4 All Women New Jersey rally held on Aug. 11 that was a precursor to the main event the next day, during which six local women ran from Princeton to the Philadelphia city hall to raise funds for Planned Parenthood.

On a Facebook post on Aug. 11, Associate Dean of Religious Life Theresa S. Thames and Program Assistant Maya Wahrman wrote that they "fully enjoyed cosponsoring and attending" the rally.

The ORL later clarified to Campus Reform 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 co-sponsored by the office.

Wahrman explained that ORL does not take a stance on the issue of abortion, but she maintained that "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."

ORL's participation in the rally has been denounced by a number of religious and pro-life students on campus.

Princeton Pro-Life said that it was "deeply hurt" and "saddened" by the office's decision to co-sponsor the rally to raise funds for Planned Parenthood.

The student group contended that ORL is "demonstrating a lack of commitment to religious freedom" by supporting an abortion provider.

"This is, of course, antithetical to its professed mission to 'promote the care and support for the many religious and secular communities' on campus," the group said regarding the office's participation in the rally.

Thomas Clark '18, president emeritus of the Anscombe Society contended that the ORL's purpose was to assist students in living out their religious faith and values, and not to be divisive by officially co-sponsoring a rally that many students of different faiths would consider to be "morally abhorrent." He further lamented that the office's decision to co-sponsor the event "will have an alienating effect on the numerous pro-life religious students at Princeton."

Kristan Hawkins, national president of Students for Life of America, argued that the office has no reason to be involved in the rally unless it was "representing a religion that believes it's okay to kill innocent human beings." She said that the ORL should instead be supporting groups that "provide real life-saving and life-changing work, such as the 50+ pregnancy resource centers in New Jersey."

In contrast to the religious and pro-life students who criticized ORL, the Rev. Bill Neely, a Unitarian Universalist chaplain, congratulated the office for its involvement in the event. He told Campus Reform that he was "grateful for and inspired" by the ORL for supporting the "essential work" of Planned Parenthood.