Barnard College’s decision to select Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards as its graduation speaker has triggered a backlash from conservative students.
Katie Christensen, a senior at the New York City school who is president of the Columbia University College Republicans, wrote a March 10 op-ed in the student newspaper calling the choice of speaker “deeply divisive.”
“While I do not question the efforts and intentions of the administration in choosing the commencement speaker, it is truly devastating that Barnard chose a speaker who bears the banner of abortion — one of the most polarizing, impassioned subjects of morality in the history of modern civilization,” said Miss Christensen in the Columbia Spectator.
Planned Parenthood provides gynecological and other health-care services to millions of women, but it may be best known as the nation’s largest provider of abortion services. An estimated one-third of all U.S. abortions are performed by doctors at Planned Parenthood clinics.
Ms. Richards is slated to deliver the keynote address at the May 18 commencement ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She will also receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, “the college’s highest honor,” according to a press release on the Barnard College website.
“Throughout her career, Cecile Richards has advocated for civic engagement and public participation as essential components of law-making and the political process,” said Barnard President Debora Spar in a statement. “Now, as head of Planned Parenthood, she is at the center of the ongoing national dialogue on women’s rights and health.”
“Her extraordinary insight and experience will inspire our graduates, whose own lives and careers will contribute to the future of these critically important issues for women everywhere,” said Ms. Spar.
In her article, Ms. Christensen said the Richards selection comes as an affront to those who oppose abortion.
“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,” said Ms. Christensen. “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.”
The conservative student group Campus Reform, which carried a report on the controversy Friday, urged its supporters to post on Twitter a line from Christensen’s article: “For an event that is supposed to be celebratory, uniting, and joyous, why must the school choose a speaker who is so deeply divisive?”
“This is outrageous,” said Campus Reform Editor-in-Chief Caleb Bonham in a Friday tweet.
Planned Parenthood was also involved in championing President Obama’s health care law. A biography on the Barnard website says that Ms. Richards “ensured that Planned Parenthood played a pivotal role in shaping health care coverage and services for women under the Affordable Care Act.”
If Barnard were to choose a figure strongly identified with the conservative movement such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a “major protest would be instigated by students and community members who vehemently disagree with her policies,” said Miss Christensen.
Ms. Richards serves as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.