The newly formed Bethel chapter of pro-life group Students for Life of America prayed at Planned Parenthood and recruited in Brushaber Commons before being rejected by student senate Oct. 28 over lack of clarity in the written resolution.
By Zach Walker
Joel Parfrey and John McCauley held hands while a tattooed arm gave them the middle finger through the window of a black Jeep. The car horn bounced off the buildings that flanked Vandalia Street in St. Paul, a brick warehouse adorned with a mural of a hand cutting barbed wire on one side, Planned Parenthood on the other. Over the noise, the students kept praying.
Parfrey and McCauley, both juniors at Bethel, are the President and Vice President, respectively, of Students for Life at Bethel, a new chapter of Students for Life of America, a national organization rooted in pro-life anti-abortion beliefs. On October 19, four group members prayed outside a branch of Planned Parenthood, a nationwide clinic that provides reproductive healthcare including approximately 300,000 abortions each year according to Planned Parenthood’s 2017 annual report.
The gathering was the first of several planned club events. But on Oct. 28, Bethel Student Senate decided it would be the last.
“We’re not shaming women,” Parfrey said. “We’re loving them into knowing that they have options.”
Parfrey and McCauley sat with club members Emily Stang, a junior, and freshman Carissa Falkenberg on the sidewalk across an asphalt driveway from Planned Parenthood. A community protestor, Mary Hollenkamp, advised them not to stand on the driveway or security would call the police, insight she had gained from standing on the same corner for two hours every Monday, Friday and Saturday. She gave the students pamphelts of abortion information by anti-abortion activist Dr. John Willke and handheld models of fetuses.
Hollenkamp paced the sidewalk and stopped any car that turned into the lot to give the passenger the same pamphlet and fetus model, items that she called “gifts.” She mentioned just having her first save. A woman who turned her car around with her daughter in the passenger seat. And she reccomended a documentary about an abortion doctor called “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.”
“I’m convicted to be here,” Hollenkamp said. “I’m called to be here.”
While Hollenkamp stepped onto the driveway to talk to passengers sitting in idling cars, the four Bethel students formed a circle, held hands and began to pray. But they kept their eyes open. Parfrey said they should be aware of their surroundings.
Accompanied by the hum of diesel engines and the dull bumps of car radios, they took turns talking to God.
“Thank you for the opportunity to represent Bethel and students who are living out faith,” Parfrey said. “We know that aborition is wrong and it should be illegal.”
“We pray for our society, but we recognize that this is not a safe place,” McCauley said. “This needs to be shut down. By your power, save the lives of these children.”
“We pray that [patients] do not see this as hate,” Stang said.
Across the driveway, seven people from Catholic churches across the Twin Cities said the Rosary.
Mike and Patrick from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Columbia Heights were serving two hours of a 12-hour shift shared by members of their church’s council of the Knights of Columbus.
Ciel and Mike Schommer from St. Peters Church in Mendota Heights, who come once every month to protest, held signs that read “Defend Life” and “Stop Abortion Now.”
“[We’re here] because of the evil of abortion,” Ciel Shommer said. “If enough people make it out, maybe they’ll do something about it.”
After Ciel Schommer shared her reasoning for protesting, a man wearing a black sweatshirt walked out of the building and down the sidewalk in front of the prayer groups. As he passed each group, the back of his sweatshirt faced them.
“Planned Parenthood is here for Good,” it read.
Nine days after praying at Planned Parenthood, Parfrey and McCauley sat in silence in BC468 at Bethel University after hearing the Student Senate decision on whether or not to make Students for Life at Bethel a club. Study Body Vice President Lucas Bentrud read the anonymous votes.
13 for. 9 against. 1 abstaining.
The club needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. So Parfrey and McCauley went back to their dorms and had to settle for the title of almost-president.
Executive Director of Student Senate Sean Doherty cited that the main reason for rejection was the lack of clarity in the written resolution and discrepancies between the resolution and the statements shared by Parfrey and McCauley during the senate meeting.
Doherty said that Parfrey and McCauley emphasized their ultimate goal of abolishing abortion. When asked if they would be willing to work with student groups that held an opposite view, they mentioned perhaps holding a forum but focused on the point that there is “no crossover between pro-life and pro-choice,” as Doherty remembers.
“The resolution articulated a different message than what they said in the meeting,” Doherty said. “The issue was the discrepancy between what they were saying and what we had on paper.”
Freshman senator Duncan Harro and senior senator Nina LeBrun wrote the resolution without meeting face-to-face with Parfrey and McCauley, a result of scheduling conflicts. The resolution that was presented at the meeting was written with only the club application as perspective into the intentions of Students for Life at Bethel.
“This club hopes to use their status to organize, equip, and mobilize Bethel students on campus and beyond, in order to create a greater impact on this community and the way it thinks about pregnancy and abortion,” the resolution reads. “Overall, the aim is to have an organized community of like-minded and passionate people that are more effective together.”
The resolution also mentions the desire of Students for Life of Bethel to “develop a strong partnership with a local crisis pregnancy center for whom they can fundraise and volunteer.”
The fact that the Bethel chapter of Students for Life would be connected to the national organization was not included in the resolution, nor was its ultimate goal of abolishing abortion. Doherty said that senators began searching the internet during the meeting for information on the national organization.
The Students for Life of America mission statement reads “Students for Life of America exists to recruit, train, and mobilize the pro-life generation to aboliosh abortion.”
The website homepage lists four categories of participants that Students for Life of America supports: medical school, college, high school and middle school.
Chemistry Professor Dr. James Christenson, faculty adviser of Students for Life at Bethel, knew he was pro-life when his daughter was born.
Today, he still looks at 19-month-old Callie and can’t imagine what it would be like to lose her.
“I don’t think abortion is right, but there needs to be love and forgiveness,” Christenson said. “You always have to react in love.”
Parfrey and McCauley are currently working with LeBrun and Harro to rewrite the resolution to make Students for Life at Bethel an official club. If it passes, the group will receive official Bethel Student Government club status and be able to apply for BSG funds in fall of 2020.
If it doesn’t pass, there will be no club designation. No funding. However, the group can still meet to show movies and talk about pro-life beliefs. They can hang posters in the stairwells if Student Life approves them. And, as long as they stay off the driveway, they can pray in front of Planned Parenthood.
“I think the revisions we are making have the potential to change the outcome of how we vote on this club status, LeBrun said. “This ought to be a discussion about free speech and what we can and will censor rather than a discussion of the ethics of abortion.”
The earliest the revote can occur is Nov. 18, but the official date is not set. Parfrey and McCauley refused to comment on the revote.