BUIES CREEK, N.C. (BP)–A scheduled speech by Sarah Weddington, the prevailing attorney in the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, at the Campbell University School of Law has drawn sharp criticism from some students at the North Carolina Baptist institution.
Student leaders of the university’s College Republicans and Campus Crusade for Christ have announced plans to protest the Jan. 27 speech with a picket line and a petition drive. “I think it’s important for Southern Baptists to stand up and support the idea that we should protect life before and after birth,” said Lee Partain, a Campbell University freshman and member of the College Republicans.
The controversy surrounds an invitation extended by a student group within the university’s law school to Weddington, who defended abortion rights in the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case.
Law School Dean Willis P. Whichard, a former justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, told Baptist Press Weddington’s speech will not cover the abortion issue during her speech at the Distinguished Speakers event. Her presentation is titled, “The Joys in the Law: From the Supreme Court to Public Service,” Whichard said.
Whichard defended Weddington’s presence at the Baptist university’s law school and called her presentation appropriate. “We teach our students to represent clients in a zealous manner,” he said. “From time to time in their careers they will have to take on unpopular causes. To be honest, I don’t even know what her individual position is on abortion.”
Gardner Payne, co-chairman of the Distinguished Speakers Committee, and a law student, said the intent was not to create a controversy. “It really has nothing to do with abortion,” Payne said. “Her presentation is not about that. She is an extremely talented attorney and legislator. She is sought after by schools from across the country.”
While the invitation was initially generated by law students, Payne said it had the endorsement of the administration and the Student Bar Association.
Whichard said the law school and Student Bar Association provided $2,000 to cover Weddington’s honorarium. Payne said Weddington accepted the invitation as a favor to one of her former research assistants who attends Campbell University.
Partain questioned the use of university funds to pay for the speech. “I don’t understand why a person who was instrumental in legalizing abortion was invited and then paid to appear on our campus,” Partain said. “It’s a bad idea.”
However, Weddington previously appeared at Campbell in 1989 as the school’s Law Day speaker and, according to Whichard, she delivered a speech about the Roe v. Wade decision.
In fairness, the law school dean pointed out, a pro-life North Carolina attorney was featured in the most recent edition of the Law Review, a campus legal journal. “The university and the law school function as they should to provide a forum for both sides of legal issues,” Whichard said.
University officials said they would allow students to stage protests Jan. 27 on the condition they remain peaceful.