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Seton Hall to Review Law School Award

By Associated Press

April 21, 2004

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. -- A Roman Catholic university said it will review an annual law school award after anti-abortion activists criticized this year's recipient, a judge who struck down a state law banning a controversial type of late-term abortion.

Seton Hall University will investigate "all aspects" of the award named for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, said Natalie Thigpen, a university spokeswoman, in a statement Tuesday.

The award, sponsored by three law school student groups and given out the past 11 years, has come under fire from abortion opponents in the past. It honors women who have distinguished themselves in law and public service.

"The conferral of awards to people who publicly espouse views that are contrary to the university's fundamental Catholic identity is a serious lapse," the statement read. Thigpen declined to comment further.

On Friday, about 20 people protested the on-campus award ceremony for Maryanne Trump Barry, a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge in Philadelphia.

Barry wrote a 2000 decision striking down New Jersey's law banning a late-term abortion procedure critics call "partial-birth abortion," saying it was too vague.

Past recipients of the Sandra Day O'Connor Medal of Honor have included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, both of whom favor abortion rights. When Whitman, then New Jersey governor, won it in 1998, school officials forced the awards ceremony off campus.

Criticism of the award has stemmed in part from the fact that O'Connor -- who presents the award in person -- sided with a 5-4 majority in 2000 that struck down a Nebraska law forbidding the controversial abortion procedure. The ruling found that the law could criminalize other types of abortions and did not make an exception when a woman's health was at risk.

Friday's ceremony drew criticism from Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, president of the university board of trustees. In a column in the archdiocese's newspaper, the Catholic Advocate, he called it "profoundly offensive."

Law school dean Patrick Hobbs did not immediately return a message Wednesday.