WASHINGTON, D.C. — Outside the U.S. Supreme Court, speakers blared with the frantic strums of guitars and the voices of four young men singing gospel songs — rock and roll style. Donning shaggy beards and seated on a makeshift stage, the four were among thousands of pro-life activists protesting the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Out on the streets, a small band of Yale students led a different chant.
“Glory, glory, hallelujah! In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,” the Yalies’ voices sang in harmony, drowned out by the yells of other protesters who arrived here at the Capitol.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the anthem for 21 members of Choose Life at Yale (CLAY), an anti-abortion organization of Yale students, as they participated in the annual March for Life last Friday. Unlike many of the other protesters, the Yalies were dressed up for the occasion: slacks and ties for the men, peacoats and leather boots for the women. After all, they had been invited to meet with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito LAW ’75 and hear him speak that afternoon.
But while the CLAY members found companionship with peers from Princeton, the Elis came to the march to show solidarity with the other members of the anti-abortion movement, who, former CLAY president Peter Johnston ’09 said, were pleasantly surprised to see Yalies marching alongside them because it dispelled the image of the aloof ivory tower.
“I think there’s a growing national divide between the educated elite and those who are less educated,” he said. “[We show that] Yale is once again accessible to the people.”
Interviews with five CLAY members showed that while the group is welcomed by the nationwide anti-abortion movement, it has struggled to find its place on a predominantly liberal campus. CLAY members said their organization is often misunderstood by their peers.
“In general, Yale is mostly pro-choice, so people can just not understand why I hold these opinions,” former CLAY president Margaret Blume ’10 said. “They can get very defensive.”
MARCHING FOR LIFE
Soon upon arriving here after carpooling all day Thursday, CLAY was set to attend a private session with Alito, alongside Princeton Pro-Life, said Lauren Kustner, president of Princeton Pro-Life.
On their walk to the Supreme Court building, the CLAY students walked with Princeton Pro-Life, beating the crowd so as to arrive at their appointment with Alito on time. The group arrived at the court at 1 p.m., met with the justice and emerged at 3:30 p.m., later declining to comment on what was discussed during the meeting.
Afterward, they rejoined the crowd of protesters that had assembled at the base of the Supreme Court building. They seemed hardly surprised by eclectic array of protesters, although at first they did not mingle much with the crowd, mainly interacting with the Princetonians. The Yale group then rejoined the other mass of protesters to march down East Capitol Street. Blume said she thinks all pro-life supporters should be able to express their views in their own way.
Eva Duong, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, saw differences from the Yalies and other protestors, saying she was puzzled to hear Yale students had had a special meeting with Alito.
Still, Kevin Gallagher ’11, a past-president of CLAY (and a staff columnist for the News), said the group was well-received by the other individuals at the protest. Many often see the academic world as a wildly pro-choice environment, he said, and the other individuals at the protest were glad to see pro-life representation from a school like Yale.
In their formal attire, the Yale students served as a marked contrast to their fellow protesters, many of whom donned elaborate signs. A woman, dressed in all white, carried a seven-foot tall cross covered in sparkled plastic tassels. Five people stood in a row, carrying placards that together read: “God is Punishing American for Abortion.” An elderly woman on the street corner yelled at passersby, waving her finger in the air.
CLAY AT YALE
While the Yale students may have appeared a bit different from the other protesters this past weekend, they regularly feel different at Yale, where they are among a small minority who oppose abortion.
At Yale, the group said, it has run up against difficulties because the campus largely disagrees with them. While CLAY applied for funding in spring 2007 from the Women’s Center as a “resident group” that can meet in the center’s space, Johnston said, the group was denied funding without explanation, he said.
A member of the 2007 board could not be reached for comment. Isabel Polon ’11, a former board member of the Women’s Center in 2008, said the Women’s Center is a pro-choice organization.
“The Yale Women’s Center believes in women’s right to choice,” she said Sunday night. “CLAY is explicitly against that right.”
Blume added that CLAY’s widespread Baby Lucy poster campaign — which documented the development of an imaginary fetus named Lucy over a span of nine months — was ridiculed: Other posters popped up beside CLAY’s posters showing the development of the fetus of a farm animal.
“That’s fine if they’re trying to show something, too,” Blume said of the parody posters. “I just don’t know what it did or what purpose it served.”
Since its founding in 2003, CLAY has held weekly discussion meetings and organized awareness campaigns. CLAY’s Web site says the organization’s mission also involves other “life” issues, such as capital punishment, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and cloning and human genetic engineering, all of which they oppose.
Correction: Jan. 25, 2010
An earlier version of this article contained several errors. First, it should not have suggested that all the participants in last Friday’s March for Life in Washington were Christian or that the event was religiously affiliated, which it was not. Second, 21 members of Choose Life at Yale participated in the march, not 13. Third, Choose Life at Yale applied for funding from the Yale Women’s Center in fall 2007, not 2009. Fourth, the News failed to contact any members of the current board of the Women’s Center, as the article initially stated it had. The News regrets the errors.