Georgetown students and community members this week had an unprecedented opportunity to engage deeply with issues of reproductive justice and Catholic teachings on life. Following the Georgetown University Lecture Fund’s invitation to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, numerous Catholic and anti-abortion organizations demonstrated against what they viewed as a disregard for Georgetown’s Catholic values. Richards’ campus visit occurred during Georgetown University Right to Life’s annual Life Week, a series of events focusing on the Catholic commitment to life, including a speech by anti-abortion activist and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson.
Georgetown’s Catholic identity does demand certain adherence to Catholic doctrine, but the university also has a responsibility to its students to welcome the exchange of ideas and perspectives with which the Catholic Church might disagree. Far from at odds with Georgetown’s mission, inviting a pro-abortion rights activist to speak in the midst of anti-abortion advocates fulfills its Jesuit values of interreligious understanding and community in diversity. However, the Life Week programming and Richards’ lecture were hosted separately. There was not a single event, discussion or lecture that presented the views of both anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights supporters.
Richards’ speech and Life Week’s events presented diametrically opposed positions in relation to abortion, but a chance for progressive dialogue and debate was ultimately lost. In order to sustain and encourage greater dialogue on issues not only limited to abortion, we urge students and the university to host and sponsor events bridging contrary views.
It is only through the spirit of free speech and open discussion that students will be able to learn from a variety of perspectives and come to their own understandings on such controversial moral questions. We urge students and the university to value constructive dialogue over belligerent debate when faced with contentious issues in the future.