SGA donation stirs up controversy

Nicole Jones

Nicole Jones

Nicole Jones

Controversy and philanthropy are two terms that aren’t typically associated.

However, these two words are coming together at Northern Kentucky University in light of recent action by the Student Government Association.

SGA approved donating $1,000 from its budget to buy brand-new car seats, cribs, diapers and other baby supplies for the New Hope Center, which offers free, confidential services to women experiencing untimely pregnancies. These services include pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, classes, counseling and prenatal care.

Counselors at the center educate women on their three options with their pregnancy: carrying the baby to full-term and parenting, making an adoption plan or planning an abortion.

The donated items will be given as rewards to women who complete a set number of parenting and decision-making classes to encourage them to chose parenthood.

The student senate voted 18-1 in favor of the expenditure at its Oct. 11 meeting.

Before the senate vote was cast, Sen. Josh Ruth, chair of the Ethics Committee, said that a senator would have to be “heartless” to vote against the donation.

Sen. Jesse McDonald did just that.

McDonald said that some students had expressed concerns to him about SGA using university funds to donate supplies to an organization that some feel has an anti-abortion sentiment.

“I voted for the students. That’s what I thought I was elected to do,” McDonald said. “Whether I’m a cold, ‘heartless’ bastard or not, I just wanted to vote for the students.”

McDonald said that it is not SGA’s place to serve as a philanthropic organization; rather, its purpose is to help students.

Sen. Heather Gilmore disagreed. “NKU prides itself on giving back to the community, (so) why not?” she said.

The New Hope Center has three locations in Northern Kentucky: Crestview Hills, Latonia and Williamstown.

Gilmore, chair of the Student Involvement Committee, originally proposed the idea to the senate after discovering that the New Hope Center has helped many NKU students.

“They have given to our Northern students, so why shouldn’t we give back to them?” she said.

Gilmore is attempting to get the entire university involved in this project. She has sent e-mails to academic departments and student organizations to encourage them to help raise money for the center by collecting loose change.

“This is politics aside. This is ‘let’s do something good for the community as a school,'” Gilmore said. “We did nothing last year as SGA. We gave nothing back to the community.”

Elle McFarland doesn’t see it that way.

“(SGA) can’t fully represent the entire diverse student body if it’s giving money to something that’s politically biased and religiously based because not all people feel the same about those issues,” she said.

McFarland is the president of Women’s Empowerment, a non-partisan activist group that brings awareness of women’s issues to students and faculty at NKU. The group will vote on whether to support SGA’s donation to the New Hope Center at its Oct. 13 meeting.

“It’s almost like SGA is saying that NKU is a pro-life university and that we support women choosing parenthood and we don’t support women who don’t,” McFarland said.

Sherry Friedmann, executive director of the New Hope Center, said it’s not that simple.

“The staff, we are pro-life. But we do not make it a political issue. That’s not what we’re about,” Friedmann said. “We’re not there to badger some woman into having her baby.

“We are not a political group … . We are an interdenominational faith-based, non-profit organization.”

Friedmann said that the center is funded by individuals, churches, foundations and federal grants. She also said that there is no affiliation between the center and the Kentucky Right to Life Association.

According to Friedmann, when a woman comes to the center and wants an abortion, counselors will inform her of exactly how the process works. They do not, however, refer women to abortion clinics.

“Every woman deserves the right do know what somebody’s going to do to her body,” she said. “We tell them what the detriments are, but we understand that that is a choice women can make. It’s not one that we hope they will make, but it’s one that we let them know if you make that (choice) you can come back to us.”

The New Hope Center offers post-abortion support for women who are experiencing grief from deciding to abort.

McFarland said that although she agrees with the post-abortion support, she’s disappointed the center doesn’t offer support before the choice is made.

“It’s obviously something that’s (kind of) biased. They do not promote abortion,” McFarland said. “If you’ve had to face that decision, I would think that you would want a totally neutral position and someone saying to you, ‘I will support you whatever you do.'”

“I also think that it’s unfair to those who chose to have an abortion because it’s a complicated decision … . It’s something that all women have the right to choose. But I believe that this organization is taking away the freedom of choice by offering rewards and incentives for the other spectrum.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Shanley said his office will be reviewing the senate’s decision to check for possible implications in using part of SGA’s $50,000 budget for the donation.

“The Dean of Student Affairs office will look into whether this is an appropriate use of university funds,” Shanley said. “(The office) will be making contact with Student Government to clarify that.”

Gilmore said she has received many e-mails and phone calls from students and faculty upset with her initiative. She said she would encourage anyone with concerns to contact Friedmann to find out more about the center.

“For those who would say that this is wrong for (SGA) to do, what you would be saying is that women do not have the right to go full-term and to receive all the help for free that she could get, and I don’t think any woman would want to say that is the wrong thing to do,” Friedmann said.