April 9, 2024

Noblesville student appeals court decision after school district wins fight over anti-abortion club

In 2021, a Noblesville High School student launched a local affiliate of Students for Life, the anti-abortion club. - Courtesy of Noblesville Schools

In 2021, a Noblesville High School student launched a local affiliate of Students for Life, the anti-abortion club.

Courtesy of Noblesville Schools

Updated April 25, 2024

Noblesville Schools won a federal lawsuit against a student who started and ran an anti-abortion club. But the legal fight might not be over yet, despite already costing the Hamilton County school district $200,000 to battle the complaint.

On April 15 the student’s lawyers filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

In 2021, the Noblesville High School student launched a local affiliate of Students for Life, the anti-abortion club. The club is part of a wider national network. 

The student, named E.D. in the lawsuit due to her age, alleged school leaders violated her First Amendment rights by revoking approval for the club and not allowing her to continue it.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District Court of Indiana ruled in late March the district did not violate that student’s rights when they sought to enforce the school’s rules for student clubs.

Noblesville Schools officials said in a statement they appreciated Barker’s ruling that the district did its job. 

“We support our students forming clubs they're passionate about and have dozens of student-led clubs that represent a wide range of interests, activities, and beliefs,” Marnie Cooke, a spokeswoman for the district, wrote in a statement.

Noblesville Students for Life is part of the wider organization Students for Life. The national chapter “seeks to recruit, train, and mobilize the pro-life generation to abolish abortion”.

The student accused school leaders of placing restrictions on the club because of its cause. District leaders said they were concerned the group was led by a parent.

But Kristan Hawkins, president of the national organization, called Baker’s ruling an “insult” to parents that weakens First Amendment protections. 

“Dealing with a weaponized judicial system is a burden that unfairly falls on pro-life Americans, including in this case, a young girl in high school,” Hawkins said in a statement.

An abortion fight in Noblesville

Shortly after the club began in 2021, E.D. and school leaders were at odds. It started when E.D. wanted to post flyers that showed pictures of students holding “Defund Planned Parenthood" and "I am the pro-life generation” signs. 

School officials said the flyers should not have photos, which follows rules for all student clubs. 

While the case made its way through court, Noblesville allowed the club to keep operating at the request of the judge. Attorneys for Noblesville Students for Life tried to remove Barker as judge on the case citing her “personal bias” in favor of abortion. But it failed. 

The case drew attention from well-known pro-life community members, such as Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith. In a 2021 editorial for The Times of Noblesville, Beckwith wrote school leaders were “discriminating” against E.D., who is a member of Beckwith’s church.

The school’s principal, Craig McCaffrey, responded in a separate editorial stating the district was working with the student. Both letters were brought up in the lawsuit. 

In response to the judge’s recent ruling, Beckwith said that rights of conservative students are being “limited”.

“We have a problem in our school system when only certain viewpoints are allowed,” Beckwith said in a statement. 

Today, the anti-abortion club still exists at Noblesville High School, according to district officials. 

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

 

Support independent journalism today. You rely on WFYI to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Donate to power our nonprofit reporting today. Give now.

 

Related News

Indiana Charter School Board revokes charter for Indy STEAM Academy
IDOE makes changes to some requirements for controversial literacy endorsement
Questions linger over Indiana's literacy endorsement stipends