A group of students at the Johns Hopkins University is reviving a campus anti-abortion group that members say will perform "sidewalk counseling" — attempting to discourage pregnant women entering clinics from going through with the procedure.
But critics worry that the tactics of Voice for Life will harm the vulnerable women the group says it is trying to help.
On Tuesday, a panel of undergraduates will review a decision by the Hopkins Student Government Association to deny recognition to the group.
At stake are university funding and privileges that are available to officially sanctioned student clubs, with advantages that include the ability to use the university logo and host events and raise money on campus.
The effort has sparked a debate at Hopkins about abortion rights, free speech and the role of the university in accommodating a controversial group.
Hopkins is the latest area campus to be roiled by such issues. In a more extreme case, the efforts of a student at nearby Towson University to form a White Student Union and conduct night "crime watch" patrols have drawn international media attention.
Administrators at Towson have acknowledged Matthew Heimbach's right to free speech but have not recognized his group, saying it does not have a faculty sponsor or enough student members.
Students, faculty and administrators rallied last week to declare that his views do not reflect the values of the Towson community.
At Hopkins, Andrew Guernsey, the freshman working to revive a group that has been dormant since 2010, says members intend to assemble outside abortion clinics near the Homewood campus to speak with women in what he says will be a nonconfrontational manner.
The group, which opposes abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, plans also to hand out literature on campus.
Guernsey, 18, from Ave Maria, Fla., says the work is particularly important at a university that trains future doctors and nurses. The effort has been backed by Students for Life of America, a national anti-abortion organization that says it has helped to create and maintain 700 campus groups nationwide.
Guernsey says about 25 students at Hopkins have expressed an interest in joining Voice for Life.
"It's important that students have a dialogue," he said.
Hopkins senior Caitlin Fuchs-Rosner says she worries about the effects of sidewalk counseling on rape victims and others. She has been working with students and alumni to oppose the group.
"Group members would be approaching students and talking to them about how abortion is immoral," said Fuchs-Rosner, 21 of Scarsdale, N.Y. "That's an impingement on someone's personal beliefs."
Guernsey says such concerns stem from a misconception of his group's methods and aims.
He says Voice for Life is not affiliated with any religious or political organization. He cites a letter from Hopkins' Office of Institutional Equity, which found that the activism the group is proposing would not violate the university's anti-harassment policy or code of conduct.
"The case for life can be made in reason and science, and that's the case we're making," he said. "We're not affiliated with any religious or political groups. A case for the humanity of the unborn child can appeal to people of any faith or no faith."
Fuchs-Rosner says members' right to free speech is not at issue.
"No one has the power to tell this group not to speak about its views," she said. "No one is going to do that. The issue in contention is whether this group should get money."