WASHINGTON — Anti-abortion activists and Georgetown University students railed against an appearance by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards at the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university Wednesday.
Students from anti-abortion campus group Georgetown Right to Life and pro-life advocates from on and off campus criticized the university for allowing the pro-choice activist to appear on campus.
“Her message is so contrary to our Georgetown values and the dignity of each human life,” Georgetown Right to Life President Michael Khan told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Khan said the group was “disappointed” in the university for allowing the speech to go forward.
“It seems as if Georgetown is endorsing this speech by Cecile Richards, where she was given such a significant platform on campus, so our goal today was to provide a stark contrast to that, to uphold the values of human dignity that should animate out university as as Jesuit school,” Khan said.
Georgetown University refuted this, claiming “an appearance of any speaker or guest on campus is not an endorsement by the university” in a statement released in March shortly after Richards’ appearance was announced.
In her Georgetown speech, Richards spoke about her belief that women, not politicians, should have the right to make decisions regarding abortion, sources who attended the event, which was only open to Georgetown University students, told TheDCNF.
“I can’t wait for the day that partisan politics gets out of reproductive health care in America,” Richards said, according to a tweet from Georgetown University’s student newspaper, The Hoya.
Richards reportedly drew applause throughout her speech, and Khan admitted that his campus is split on issues such as abortion.
“We’re probably the most liberal Catholic university in the nation,” Khan told TheDCNF. “Many of our students and faculty aren’t Catholic and are very hostile to Catholic doctrine and Jesuit and Catholic values. We certainly have an active and strong pro-life group on campus, but there’s an equally, perhaps stronger, pro-choice group on campus.”
The event was organized by the Lecture Fund, a student-run group that brings speakers to the university. Past speakers include disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Democratic strategist James Carville and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
The university defended the student group’s decision to invite Richards, affirming students’ right to host speakers whose ideas some might see as “controversial or objectionable.”
“We respect our students’ right to express their personal views and are committed to sustaining a forum for the free exchange of ideas, even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable to some,” the statement read.
“We recognize that the perspectives of some speakers run counter to the Catholic and Jesuit values that animate our university,” the statement read. “We work very hard to ensure that these values maintain a privileged place in our community while at the same time providing a forum that does not limit speech either in the content of the view being expressed or the speaker expressing the view.”
In response to Richards’ appearance, Right to Life will host Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who is now a pro-life activist, Wednesday night. The group also held a panel discussion Tuesday on alternatives to abortion and planted pink and blue flags on campus to “represent the number of abortions committed each day in the United States,” Khan said.
Representatives of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a national organization that advocates against issues such as abortion and gay marriage, also joined other anti-abortion activists in protests around campus.
Calling Richards’ appearance a “scandal,” Tradition, Family and Property volunteer Bentley Hatchett drew a difference between the Catholic and Jesuit university and liberal arts or state colleges, claiming Georgetown’s first obligation should be “to be faithful to the church and consistent with the church’s message.”
“We are representing the voices of 13,000 people who have signed a petition against the scandal of Georgetown University, which is a Catholic institution, inviting the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, to speak,” Hatchett told TheDCNF.
Referencing Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, Hatchett said, “Catholic institutions have an obligation to promulgate the faith and to promulgate right morality, especially the virtue of purity.”
Hatchett dismissed the free speech concerns cited by some who supported Richards’ appearance.
“Catholic institutions, before they’re committed even to freedom of speech or the exchange of ideas, have to ensure that church teaching is being promulgated,” he told TheDCNF.
The Archdiocese of Washington also came out against the university’s decision to allow a campus group to host Richards.
“What we lament and find sadly lacking in this choice by the student group is any reflection of what should be an environment of morality, ethics and human decency that one expects on a campus that asserts its Jesuit and Catholic history and identity,” The Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement.
Richards, who is supporting Hillary Clinton for president, made headlines earlier this week for her comments that “a woman voting for Ted Cruz is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders,” while she was introducing the former secretary of state at a rally in New York Monday.
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