WASHINGTON — The president of Planned Parenthood compared abortion advocacy to the fight against racism during her speech on Wednesday at the nation’s oldest Catholic university, during which she obtained a standing ovation.
Cecile Richards, the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, had been invited by the student-run Georgetown Lecture Fund, a move that some sharply criticized.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl told reporters that it was outside of Catholic tradition to give a platform to an individual who promotes abortion.
“This is the latest in a long history of scandal at Georgetown University,” Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly also stated. “Disguised as an academic event, this is nothing more than a platform for abortion advocacy at a Catholic university.”
“We’re probably the most liberal Catholic university in the nation,” Michael Khan of Georgetown Right to Life told reporters. “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.”
Khan’s group was among those who stood outside of the event to protest Richards’ appearance. The group Vita Saxa planted thousands of pink and blue flags on the Georgetown lawn to “represent the 3,562 lives lost in the U.S. to abortion each day.”
“They’ve perpetuated this myth that ‘if we go away, so goes women’s health care,’” said Missy Stone of Students for Life of America. “We’re saying no, there are 13,000 federally qualified health centers nationwide and there’s only 700 Planned Parenthood facilities.”
Richards acknowledged that her appearance came with opposition on Wednesday, but compared abortion advocacy to the nation’s fight against racism.
“Based on my Twitter feed, I know there are a lot of folks who didn’t want me to speak today. So thanks for showing up,” she said, according to audio obtained by the Christian Post. “But it is sort of appropriate, in a way, because I think every bit of progress that we have made in this country and we make as a people in the world is because there are people willing to speak out even when it is unpopular.”
Richards spoke of the opposition John Lewis faced in Selma, Alabama in speaking up for the rights of African Americans, and noted the sit-ins that were held in the South to protest racism.
“Our history with race in America is something that we all have to address, including Planned Parenthood,” she said. “It’s important that we understand our collective history and the legacy that it leaves on those that are still living in an unjust system. Lack of access to healthcare and reproductive rights is a result of many factors—race, gender, sexual orientation, geography and immigration status. In order to build true equity in America we have to address it all.”
Richards also praised founder Margaret Sanger, who was known to be a supporter of eugenics and changed the organization’s name from the Birth Control League to Planned Parenthood after some found it to be offensive.
“It is kind of interesting now to see these sepia-toned photos and from day one, there were women lined up down the block pushing baby strollers with babies on their shoulders,” she recalled of Sanger’s clinic in New York City. “Ten days later, an undercover cop who was posing as a mother busted Margaret and threw her in jail.”
While Richards received a standing ovation in the 400-seat Lohrfink Auditorium where she spoke, others were not so pleased with the presentation, nor the question and answer period that followed.
“I don’t think that today’s event represented a free exchange of ideas or a spirit of dialogue,” student Reed Howard told Religion News. “Instead, Cecile Richards was given a platform to spew her beliefs unchallenged.”