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A Response to Dr. Pestello’s Claim of “Fundamental Intolerance”

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This is my fourth year attending SLU, and each year our quad is covered with wooden crosses by the pro-life organization on campus. This year, an anonymous person removed the display. Students for Life as well as President Pestello have spoken out about the incident, claiming that it is “fundamental intolerance” to oppose the display from a pro-life organization on campus. President Pestello even compared the opposition to this annual anti-abortion display to Islamophobia and anti-Semitic acts. I must completely disagree with that comparison. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are founded in hate and ignorance. The right to choose is rooted in medical evidence, the right to access health care and bodily autonomy.

Dr. Pestello calls for the free exploration and exchange of diverse opinions. Yet he has not allowed other groups with opposing views to have a presence on campus, and allowed public discrimination to go unpunished.

Healthy is Hot is a nonprofit organization, (not allowed to be an official University organization) which aims to provide reproductive health care resources to the sexually active students on our campus. In late September of this year, Healthy is Hot members were approached by a faculty member who hurled insults, calling the organization, their members and mission “disgusting.” When members responded by speaking of the respect for diverse opinions, the individual continued to simply state “you’re wrong” and refused to follow up for a more dignified exchange of beliefs in a different setting, while continuing to patronize the group in the middle of campus. To make matters worse, as the professor left the premise, he yelled to uninvolved students “Do not take the condoms! You will go to hell!” Upon hearing this, I was shocked and disappointed in my university. We claim to adhere to a mission of diversity, inclusion of different beliefs and respect for human dignity and yet this behavior came from a faculty member.

I respect all religions, but I do not believe that the religious interpretations of some should be inflicted upon all others when it comes to healthcare. And although President Pestello references numerous reasons for the display that Students for Life puts up—including representation for Missouri residents who live in poverty—the student group’s website, newsletter and Facebook page refers specifically to their mission as an anti-abortion organization. I would like to point out that many Missouri residents who live in poverty need Planned Parenthood and more access to reproductive health services in order to live a healthy and dignified life. A SLU public health professor published a report called “Geographic Variation in Condom Availability and Accessibility” in December 2016. They investigated nearly 1,300 stores and found that poor neighborhoods in St. Louis have restricted and/or limited access to condoms. This indicates that there is a need for more access to reproductive health care resources in the St. Louis area. Additionally, the students on our campus deserve access to reproductive health resources as well. It is a public health issue to not allow a university with a majority of sexually active students access to contraception. Contraception is THE most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies, where “fertility-awareness” based methods and abstinence education are the least effective. It is irresponsible to deny access to contraception and resources that prevent sexually transmitted diseases. If we can’t promote evidence-based public health solutions to STIs and unintended pregnancies, how can we uphold truth, dignity for all, and keep our credibility as a leading medical school?

The dismantling of the anti-choice group’s display on campus may not have been the most effective way to raise these concerns. However, based on the example that SLU’s own faculty has set when it comes to suppressing and targeting the students who are advocating for reproductive justice, I can’t say that it came as a complete surprise for me. The University has sent its own message of “fundamental intolerance” to reproductive health advocacy groups through their actions. President Pestello himself suggested during an open forum last spring that if students wanted access to condoms, they should transfer to another school.

One thing I will agree with is the need for open discussions to have these sorts of uncomfortable conversations on campus. I would love to see events where pro-choice and pro-life students can respectfully discuss differences of opinion, and work together to promote prevention of unintended pregnancies and ensure a high quality of life for low-income individuals residing in our community. I believe that there are many strategies in which we may be able to agree on, but we will never reach that place if the University only allows one side to participate.

1 Comment

One Response to “A Response to Dr. Pestello’s Claim of “Fundamental Intolerance””

  1. George Lawrence on November 3rd, 2017 10:11 pm

    This is just so factually incorrect.

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A Response to Dr. Pestello’s Claim of “Fundamental Intolerance”