Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will give a closed lecture at Georgetown University on April 20, and commencement exercises May 15 at the University of Notre Dame will honor the staunchly pro-choice Vice President Joe Biden with its Laetare Medal — the oldest, most prestigious award for American Catholics.
At both universities, cadres of students, alumni and professors have risen up to protest these decisions with petitions, letter writing campaigns – they’ve even scheduled pro-life events to contrast the pro-abortion ones.
“The award to Vice President Biden simply cheapens the significance of the Laetare Medal. It also damages Notre Dame’s commitment to the pro-life cause both on campus and beyond it,” said Father Bill Miscamble, a history professor at Notre Dame.
At Georgetown, its Right to Life group has spearheaded an effort to protest the event with petitions, an open letter, and scheduled events on the day of Richards’ visit to campus. It will host its annual Flag Day on April 20, during which the group places thousands of flags in the campus lawn to mark the number of abortions that occur in the U.S. everyday.
On April 19, it will host a “Life-Affirming Alternatives to Planned Parenthood” panel, and the week leading up to the talk the group will host its annual Life Week. Right to Life will also host Abby Johnson—a former Planned Parenthood worker turned pro-life advocate—for an evening talk, and Students for Life will be present on campus along with banners providing information and statistics about Planned Parenthood.
On top of that, GU Right to Life helped draft two petitions opposing the talk, said its president, Georgetown sophomore Michael Khan. The first petition, written in partnership with the national group Students for Life, is open for anyone to sign. The second, drafted by a group of concerned GU alumni, is specific to Georgetown students, alumni, faculty and administrators.
“Planned Parenthood is our nation’s largest abortion provider, performing over 320,000 abortions in 2015 alone,” says the student letter, which Khan provided to The College Fix.
It calls the talk “unprecedented for a Catholic school of Georgetown’s stature” and “a slap in the face to all that we stand for.” It also notes that the university is permitting Richards to speak “unchallenged,” yet does not in any way recognize or celebrate Respect Life month during October.
“We cannot and will not remain silent about the matter. Evil persists when good men and women do nothing. In your capacity as administrators at our nation’s oldest Catholic university, we are asking you to act – and do what is right,” the letter concludes.
Kevin Doak, Nippon Foundation Endowed Chair in Japanese Studies at Georgetown and a signatory of the letter, told The Fix that as a Catholic faculty member at a Catholic university, he has no option but to protest the event, which he called a “violation of our bishop’s guidance on this matter of faith and morals.”
To explain his reasoning, Doak cited Mary Ann Glendon’s letter to Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, President of Notre Dame, when she declined the Laetare Medal in 2009. In her letter, Glendon referenced the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life,” which instructed Catholic institutions not to “honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Of the bishops’ statement, Glendon wrote: “That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.”
Further explaining his stance, Doak cited a portion of the USCCB’s statement that reads in part “the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace.”
Khan told The Fix this is just one more example of Georgetown pro-life students being ignored by their university.
“It seems that, based on Georgetown’s decision, school administrators view abortion as morally different from other human rights violations, like slavery and child labor, and therefore the promotion of its use is acceptable speech on a Catholic campus,” he said.
So far, despite these efforts, the university continues to defend the right of the student group—called the Lecture Fund—to sponsor the event. Georgetown’s public statement declares “our Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger. Georgetown remains firmly committed to the sanctity and human dignity of every life at every stage.”
Meanwhile, in South Bend, Catholic student groups have been coalescing to oppose Notre Dame’s awarding of the Laetare Medal to Biden.
As of April 6, seven student groups had signed on to co-sponsor a pro-life prayer service on April 17, which will take place on campus and conclude with a procession to the school’s Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. The service will be put on entirely by Notre Dame students.
“This event is not meant to be a political statement. Instead, we hope to join in prayer to bear witness to the sanctity of human life and the role that Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, should play in respecting it,” said Notre Dame senior Hailey Vrdolyak, who is involved in organizing the event. “We also want to show that this issue is of great importance to many students, and we hope the University will take notice of our efforts and our concerns.”
On March 18, Notre Dame’s official student newspaper the Observer published a letter signed by 89 students, taking issue with the award. As of April 6, the letter had been signed by more than 300 Notre Dame students.
Notre Dame freshman Eddie Damstra also wrote a letter to the Observer in which he expressed his grave disappointment with awarding the medal to Biden.
Despite not being a Catholic himself, Damstra noted the “stark contrast between Vice President Biden’s support for abortion and the explicit and universally agreed-upon doctrine within the Church that emphasizes the importance of protecting the unborn.”
Damstra said his disappointment stems not from his political affiliation or his desire to make a political statement about Biden, but rather from his belief that presenting Biden with the award undermines its meaning.
“Supporting and promoting legislation that is associated with the murders of thousands of innocent human lives each day is not enriching the heritage of humanity but rather harming it,” Damstra’s letter concluded.
Notre Dame’s University Faculty for Life also passed a unanimous statement on April 1, calling on the university to rescind the award, citing particular qualms with Vice President Biden.
This statement echoed some of the concerns raised by a statement from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese.
Bishop Rhoades cited, among other concerns, Biden’s vocal support for both abortion rights and the redefinition of marriage, as grounds that might cause the award to “provoke scandal.”
IMAGES: Notre Dame (Kate Hardiman); Pope Francis (Casa Rosada)