Police keep journalists in the ‘media zone’
Georgetown University left little to chance Wednesday when Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and former abortion clinic director Abby Johnson, now a pro-life activist, made speeches on campus just hours apart.
It restricted attendance at both speeches to people with Georgetown ID cards and kept non-Georgetown pro-life groups at a safe distance.
Campus police told a woman carrying a graphic sign of an aborted fetus that she would be removed from campus if she didn’t leave.
And the Catholic university assigned an escort to keep track of my movements as a student journalist.
Pro-life groups took their activism as far as Georgetown would let them, occasionally confronted by pro-choice students.
— Kate Scanlon (@kgscanlon) April 21, 2016
Mum on abortion, more effort to ‘rally the troops’
When I entered campus carrying a large semi-studio sized camera, a Georgetown staff person told me I’d need to be escorted to the “media zone.” This despite my protests that I’m an American University student and spend half the week at Georgetown, where my girlfriend is a student.
No exceptions, the staffer said, warning that I would be barred from covering any campus happenings Wednesday if I didn’t stay put.
The media zone consisted of two journalists and myself guarded by four police officers, next to the “free speech zone.” Both zones were positioned just outside the door to the Richards speech.
— Students for Life (@Students4LifeHQ) April 20, 2016
The Planned Parenthood president actually shied away from the topic that makes the organization a lightning rod, according to Lilly Flasher of Georgetown Right to Life, who attended the speech.
Richards “didn’t talk too much about abortion and I think she was trying to probably stray away from that because it would be controversial,” Flasher told me. “All she did was try to rally the troops and get her agenda out there.”
Julie Reiter, another Georgetown Right to Life member, pressed Richards during the Q&A portion on the abortion-rights movement’s longtime label “pro-choice.”
Reiter told me she cited statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, that 94 percent of Planned Parenthood pregnancy services are abortions, and asked Richards whether her group sways women toward abortions.
In an exchange also noted by Students for Life of America, Richard responded to Reiter by distinguishing between the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood and questioning “whatever statistics you come up with.” Richards continued that women should be able to make choices about their own pregnancies.
— Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards) April 20, 2016
Georgetown Right to Life, an affiliate of Students for Life that is running pro-life programming all week, also sponsored Johnson’s competing speech against abortion.
A onetime “Employee of the Year” at Planned Parenthood before she soured on the abortion industry, Johnson talked about her time as director of a Planned Parenthood clinic and her work to help other clinic workers leave the industry.
Georgetown students were not the only ones protesting Richards’ visit, with many members of Students for Life on hand outside her speech.
Tina Whittington said that her presence was not just to protest Richards, but to provide another perspective. “We’re hoping that today being here, the students will really have an opportunity to get both sides of this conversation,” she said.
“Georgetown only invited the president of Planned Parenthood and so it’s not really an exchange of ideas going on, on this campus,” Whittington continued. “We’re here saying Planned Parenthood is a corrupt business and we shouldn’t be giving them taxpayer money, and we definitely shouldn’t be inviting the CEO of the company to a religious campus.”
Take your ‘offensive’ sign and leave
Students for Life activists were allowed on campus because they had Georgetown students sponsoring them. Other pro-life activists weren’t so fortunate.
One lone protester holding a graphic poster depicting an aborted fetus head, reading “Abortion Kills Children,” was told by a campus officer that the sign was “offensive.” If she didn’t keep it concealed, the officer said, she would be removed from campus.
A traditionalist lay Catholic organization known as The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) protested right outside Georgetown’s gates, purposely avoiding any confrontation with campus authorities.
This gave them much more ample room for discussion with passers-by, many of whom made their objections quite clear. One young woman attempted to burn the flyer they handed her, then threw it on the ground.
“She’s a chronic litterer,” TFP participant John Ritchie quipped. “She did that last time as well.”
Ritchie said the group staged the protest because Georgetown is a Catholic university, and “the Catholic Church forever has taught that the right to life is an inviolable right, and the Fifth Commandment states that ‘thou shalt not kill.’”
IMAGES: Ford Fischer