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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Football over freedom: the ‘stadium law’

The cheerful insanity of football season has begun — the massive tailgates and the tens of thousands of fans roaring from their seats for victory of their favorite teams. But I wonder how many of us shrieking Wildcats know the seats that we sit on were paid for by money that restricts a woman’s right to choose.

Despite colorful appearances, we didn’t always have such a tremendous football culture, or a membership in the prestigious “”Pacific-10 Conference”” (otherwise known as the  “”Conference of Champions””).

And we didn’t always have the massive stadium we do now, a burly monolith that can be seen from 30 miles away.

Back in 1974, our stadium was lacking by tens of thousands of seats, the standards required for Pac-10 membership.

A year prior, in 1973, Roe v. Wade made it not only illegal to criminalize women who choose to have an abortion, but affirmed that “”rapid and simple abortion referral must be readily available through state and local public health departments, medical societies, or other nonprofit organizations.”” For anti-abortion advocates, however, Roe v. Wade represented a nightmare that simply had to be thwarted in any way.

A university desperate for major football standing and anti-abortion politicians seeking creative ways to nullify Roe v. Wade was perhaps an alliance few could have foreseen.

Then-UA President John P. Schaefer’s long “”quest”” for stadium renovations found its solace in a bond bill that would allocate to the university the needed $5.5 million. Knowing how desperate the UA was for the money, Arizona Legislator Jim Skelly attached a technical rider onto the bill that stipulated the prohibition of abortions at all public educational facilities under Arizona Board of Regents jurisdiction (UA, ASU, and NAU) “”unless to save the life of the mother.”” In other words, if the UA accepts the money, the university agrees to outlaw abortions.

Given the unconstitutionality of the ban, Schaefer probably thought that the rider would be destroyed and the UA would still be able to keep the money.

But such a moral gamble with women’s rights proved disastrous. The clause remains as a statute in the Arizona Constitution 35 years later.

Even Jim Skelly, the legislator who authored the rider which locked onto the bond bill, was quoted mocking in a 2000 Tucson Citizen article, reflecting on how his premeditated scheme had “”worked.””

“”The university’s ideology sure went down the drain when it came to expanding the sports arena, now didn’t it?””  He was exactly right.

But the important question remains how students and the UA community choose to respond to this great injustice. Especially as generations of medical students are continually robbed of a comprehensive education and as the overall UA community remains complicit in the crimes of their past administrations. Even President Robert Shelton, who is the ultimate heir to Schaefer’s shame, candidly responded to me about an interview request on the UA-led abortion ban, admitting his own ignorance of the entire matter, He had no information on it whatsoever.

But the first difficulty of any injustice is, of course, the lack of people even knowing about it, whether prestigious university administrators or passionate undergraduate students.

Interdisciplinary studies senior Ali Weber recalls when she first heard about the stadium law while taking a sociology class last spring.

“”I never spoke a whole lot in that class,”” she remarked. “”But when I realized what was happening in terms of the ban, I pulled myself up on my desk and said what do you mean they don’t teach abortion? It’s a life-saving procedure! It’s like not teaching how to catheterize someone!””

Many students likely share Weber’s fury when they hear how their university administrators sold out abortion rights so that they could join the Pac-10.

As an Arizona Daily Star article from May, 1974, relates, the $5.5 million in bonds “”would be paid off through ticket receipts.”” So it goes, every time we use UA facilities we are directly supporting this illegal ban.

The situation doesn’t have to remain so bleak, however. Our shared culpability for the ban also opens the path for possible solutions.

The problem with the ban isn’t only that it’s unjust and outright criminal, but rather that people like us tolerate it. Frankly, the main problem with the ban is our civil obedience to it. People across the state, particularly those with more opportunity and measurable forms of power and privilege, such as university students, professors, medical professionals, etc., can, with awareness and civil initiative, directly challenge the law’s legitimacy and express the issue publicly as a compelling question of civil, political and economic rights entitled to the populace.

And there are many ways open for us to do so. Students can raise a rumpus about it, first of all. Medical professors can violate the climate of the ban and teach their students a more comprehensive and honest curriculum on abortion procedures. Doctors can violate the ban and offer to perform abortions.

Yet, while many pro-choice advocates fail to act, there are groups of people that organize themselves to uphold the law when the government fails to do so. Planned Parenthood, the largest health organization in southern Arizona, provides comprehensive reproductive care, including abortions — the only organization to offer such services in the state.       

Among young people, the local affiliate of Medical Students for Choice transcends at least the social barriers of the ban and simply “”creates the opportunity for medical students who wish to supplement their education by hosting clinical skills sessions, collaborating with Planned Parenthood and working to raise awareness of this issue,”” said Allison Lowe, Medical Students for Choice President.

The question is how many of us will join them in refusing to accept these criminal norms. Ironically, such actions are dependent entirely on our will and ultimate choice.

— Gabriel Schivone is an art, literature and media studies junior.  He can be

reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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