Speakers from organizations like the National Abortion Federation and Choice USA aren’t the kind of guests you’d expect to find at a Georgetown University-sponsored event—especially not if they’re the event’s main voices, and especially not if there isn’t anyone sitting on the panel to counter their input with pro-life opinions.
But that’s exactly who made up the panel that Plan A Hoyas held last night to kick off Choice Week, making it one of the very few events, possibly even the first that the University has ever funded where speakers only presented pro-choice arguments about the abortion debate.
Before a room of about fifty students, Mark Egerman, from NAF, Robin Wood, from Choice USA, and Jared Watkins (COL ’11), a founder of GU Men Creating Change, spoke about the importance of male involvement in the pro-choice movement, why male involvement is especially important to the pro-choice movement now, and how Georgetown students can lobby the school to fund more similar events.
“Unfortunately, men’s voices are often heard louder than women’s even when the same message is being heard,” Egerman said. Later, he spoke to the difficulty of getting men to advocate for abortion rights, as it’s not a right that men exercise. “The power to be able to force someone to give birth against their will is fundamentally terrifying. But that’s not something men necessarily think about because they’re not physically threatened by that.”
Watkins, the student, does a lot of work on and off campus concerning violence against women and said that Georgetown policies that “silence women’s voices of control women’s choices” are a very basic form of controlling women’s bodies. “And that control is very basic violence against women,” he said.
Wood, from Choice USA, and Egerman both said that the health care reform package passed over the weekend, and the new hurdles it will create for access to abortion, had seriously disappointed many women’s groups that had supported President Barack Obama.
“The sheer fury of the past 24 hours is astounding,” Egerman, speaking to the flood of e-mails and calls he has gotten since the House of Representatives passed the health care bills.
The panel concluded with a discussion of the abortion debate in Catholic communities.
“On some level, I don’t really get why on this one issue, the Church has decided to stake all their battles,” Egerman said. “But you need to push that, you need to be very aggressive. You need to say, we’re not saying we’re you’re not Jesuit, but you need to open up to this sort of dialogue.
“This idea that my student activities, if they go into a pot, and even one of my dollars goes to pay for something I don’t like, I am comprimised? You don’t need to be responsible for what everyone else will do, think, say, or believe. You’re a community, and you need to be responsible to others’ right to speak out.”
At the beginning of the event, Marion Cory (COL ’10), a Plan A member and member of United Feminists’s board, said that the event was the only Choice Week event funded by Georgetown.
“We’re definitely disappointed that Georgetown prohibits a group like H*yas For Choice from holding an event like this,” she said. “Although it’s a H*yas For Choice event, it has to be sponsored symbolically by [United Feminists].”
The sensitivity of funding an event where speakers are sharing only pro-choice views was reflected in the concerns members of the Student Activities Commission voiced even after they had already funded the event, albeit by a narrow vote. Ruiyong Chen (SFS ’13), SAC’s public relations director, sent this e-mail to student media when SAC discovered that the event was being advertised as not a United Feminists but a Plan A Hoyas event:
“It has come to our attention that the panel and discussion on the role of men in the pro-choice movement on Monday, March 22nd, is being advertised as being hosted by Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice. We would like to correct and clarify that Plan A is not a SAC group and has not been given Access to Benefits by the University.
“We approved and funded the event as it was presented to us, in which United Feminists, whose constitution does not take a stance on this issue, was to host this event. We do not and did not approve this event to be hosted by Plan A Hoyas, which advocates for a point of view that is not in line with the University’s Catholic identity.”
Chen did not respond to an e-mail asking whether United Feminist was violating an agreement with SAC by advertising the event as a cosponsored event.
Cory, the UF board member, wrote in an e-mail that UF was acting within its rights.
“We are on the same page as SAC—the event is officially sponsored by UF and SAC approved it as such. However, it is beyond SAC’s (and the University’s) jurisdiction to dictate whether or not unofficial student groups or coalitions can co-sponsor, support or endorse events. That’s exactly what Plan A is doing here,” she wrote. “We’re really excited that this kind of event is finally being allowed to take place at Georgetown. Overall, United Feminists is pleased with SAC’s support of such an important event that advocates a pro-choice perspective.”
In a separate e-mail, Heather Brock, a member of H*yas For Choice, echoed her sentiments.
“We think that it’s very important that United Feminists, GU Men Creating Change, and the Plan A Campaign are co-sponsoring this kick-off event for Choice Week,” she wrote, “because it shows that campus groups are interested in exploring the Choice issue.”
Update 12:15 a.m., March 23: Chen responded to Vox‘s follow-up question about whether it was understood that UF could not advertise this as a Plan A Hoyas event. She wrote:
“The way we understand and approved this event was that it was United Feminists’ event, not Plan A’s. If they want to advertise this as a Plan A event, we would have to look further into the situation and have a discussion about university policy.”