College invites Planned Parenthood president as commencement speaker

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

Coming to Radio City Music Hall in May will be an act pro-lifers don’t want to see, but Barnard College doesn’t care and is giving the stage of an important event to the president of Planned Parenthood.

Barnard, a quality liberal arts women’s college in New York, made the announcement to the ire of pro-life students. The college announced that not only would Richards address the graduating class of Barnard on May 18, but as a champion of women’s rights, she will received the Barnard Medal of Distinction, “the College’s highest honor, together with three other honorees: Mahzarin Banaji, social psychologist and professor of social ethics at Harvard University; Ursula Burns, chair and chief executive officer of Xerox; and Patti Smith, acclaimed musician, poet, and artist.”

Not all students agree. Katie Christensen, a senior political science major, writes in her column for the Columbia Spectator, the Barnard student paper, that choosing Richards to speak at an event for all students is “deeply divisive”:

“I doubt that Barnard would ever consider a Palestinian social justice crusader to speak at commencement, just as it would never consider an Israeli political champion. The clashes in ideology and beliefs are simply too schismatic for Barnard to approach.

“By choosing such a controversial figure, Barnard implies that students who take deep offense to this choice do not have valid concerns, and their beliefs do not matter. Choosing a speaker of such moral and political controversy seems to assume that the opposing minority will be shamed into silence for their beliefs and will take this decision more or less sitting down. Perhaps Barnard, in whatever calculus it is doing, does not care about offending and isolating students like me, families in attendance like mine, or beliefs like the ones I hold.

“It is true that Planned Parenthood offers accessible health care to millions of underserved women in America in the form of cancer screenings, birth control, and other gynecological services. However, in 2009, it also carried out more than a third of the nation’s abortions. Though abortions are a minority of the services rendered by Planned Parenthood, Richards’ role there has been largely focused on fundraising for and endowing abortion operations of the organization.”

Christensen acknowledges that “it would be perfectly appropriate for Richards to speak to interested students at another event on campus.” However, her comments make an important point that speaks to the error of any liberal arts institution at polarizing beliefs:

“For a school, that in my experience, has been so embracing and promoting of pluralities in religious, feminist, philosophical, professional, ethnic, and educational ideologies, it is shocking to see such a blatant dismissal of moral and political perspectives. Barnard chooses Cecile Richards to represent the culmination of our class’s time here at the peril of its own integrity.”

The Barnard announcement seems to succumb to the women’s rights rhetoric of the modern day, noting Richards has been a leader in “dialogue” on these issues. Somehow it misses that the dialogue is actually political and emotional manipulation to further the cause of abortion, something one of its own students can see and articulate with rhetorical expertise. Instead of embracing the tolerance and pluralism that it purports to exemplify, it has taken a side in an issue and offered the biggest abortion provider in America not only a platform but a medal.

When the head of an agency that is responsible for killing millions of pre-born children gets the honor of addressing a distinguished student body as it prepares to enter the world, something is wrong at the root of society itself.

“Commencement means beginning.” More than one commencement speech has begun with that old line. How tragically ironic it is that a speech on beginnings would be given by a woman at the hand of so many premature endings.

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