UPDATE: Abby Johnson to speak at Georgetown University April 20

Georgetown Right to Life, the Students for Life of America affiliate at Georgetown University, is bringing Abby Johnson, pro-life proponent and ex-Planned Parenthood manager, to speak on the Washington, D.C., campus on April 20, the same day as Cecile Richards, the president of the nation’s largest abortion provider.

A signature campaign by the Cardinal Newman Society had collected more than 14,000 names of people who opposed the extension of a speaking invitation from the student-run Lecture Fund at Georgetown to Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in late March.

In announcing the lecture by Johnson, Michael Kahn, president of Georgetown Right to Life, said,  “Abby Johnson has personal experience at Planned Parenthood, and will reveal what the organization is really all about. It is important students learn about Planned Parenthood's careless disregard for human life, and why Planned Parenthood is bad for women and children."

After the news of the Richards' speech was broken by the Cardinal Newman Society, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization that describes its mission as “to promote and defend faithful Catholic education,” in early March, many Catholics had expressed their firm disapproval of having the head of the nation’s leading abortion provider give a keynote talk at a Catholic university.

An official statement released by the Archdiocese of Washington, in which the university is located, expressed the view of the local Church and its archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

“The university insists that this is a matter of student autonomy and free speech, although the same student organization is selective in what it accepts for discussion and whom it invites,” the archdiocese communicated in a statement. “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.”

On his own blog, Cardinal Wuerl, who last May published a pastoral letter on Catholic identity, did not address the topic by name, but wrote pointedly on March 8 on the identity of Catholic universities, saying, “The Catholic university provides a unique forum where this Good News can be explored, more deeply understood and lived. If the moral climate and ethical texture of a Catholic university is no different than any secular institution of higher education, it loses its claim to distinctiveness and the label ‘Catholic’ becomes simply a reference to an earlier era.”

In its own statement, Georgetown said it recognizes that “the perspectives of some speakers run counter to the Catholic and Jesuit values that animate our university.” However, it declared that the university works “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.”

Adam Wilson, director of communications for The Cardinal Newman Society, does not give credence to such a viewpoint.

“Cecile Richards is the leader of Planned Parenthood, which promotes contraception and has performed more than 2.8 million abortions during her tenure,” Wilson told Our Sunday Visitor. “When a Catholic university gives a speaking platform to a public person, that decision needs to stem from the institution’s Catholic identity. Giving the president of Planned Parenthood a place of honor and prominence to speak to students is beyond the pale, as its work is so opposed to the Church’s fundamental moral teachings.”

Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family & Human Rights, a New York and Washington, D.C.-based research institute focusing exclusively on international social and legal policy, went as far as to say that such a decision should result in the revocation of the university’s Catholic status.

“This is a woman who leads an organization that kills 300,000 innocent babies each year and then sells their body parts for profit,” Ruse said. “Rather than inviting her to speak on their campus, they should be leading the charge to try her for crimes against humanity.”

According to its website, Georgetown’s Lecture Fund is a “nonpartisan student-run organization that exists to enrich the academic experience of the Georgetown community. The Lecture Fund strives to bring speakers to Georgetown’s campus to enlighten, educate and, occasionally, entertain.” The talk by Richards will not be open to the public, and only those with a Georgetown University ID will be admitted. The event will consist of remarks and a time for questions. Past speakers include Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama; actor Kevin Spacey; conservative social and political commentator Ann Coulter; and political strategist James Carville.

The statement by Georgetown stressed that the appearance of Richards, or any other speaker or guest to campus, is not an endorsement of that person’s views, and that “Georgetown remains firmly committed to the sanctity and human dignity of every life at every stage.”

Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee who converted to Catholicism and became active in the pro-life cause, had hinted at an event being organized by Students for Life of America on the Georgetown campus to counter Richards’ speech.

“We need an event to present the other side, to speak the truth about Planned Parenthood,” Johnson said. “Their rhetoric is one thing, but their actions are another. Planned Parenthood says, for example, that abortions should be ‘safe, legal and rare,’ but in reality, they pressure their facilities to meet abortion quotas. They always say they want women to receive ‘safe’ healthcare, but in reality all they’re concerned about is unlimited access and expanding services.”

Recently released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the apparent sale of baby parts from aborted fetuses have highlighted the grisly and lucrative practices of some of the larger Planned Parenthood facilities, she said, but “the real travesty is that babies are being aborted in the first place. Our goal should be not only to make abortion illegal, but unthinkable.”

Jim Graves writes from California.