We are going to open by saying something that everyone knows about us: We are ardently, openly and unabashedly pro-choice. We are writing this as the president and vice president of H*yas for Choice, but also as pro-choice students sick of an endless, pointless battle at Georgetown taking place under the guise of free speech, or lack thereof.
On Wednesday we had the opportunity to meet Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and introduce her to 400 of our peers. We do not overstate our excitement when we say it was the highlight of our time at Georgetown. We found Richards’ speech on the need for Planned Parenthood’s services and the importance of pro-choice activism to be inspiring, provocative and accessible. Wherever one stands on the abortion question, surely there was something to glean from her wisdom and experience. This does not mean, however, that the conversation was not geared toward pro-choice students. It was.
And that is OK.
The majority of students in the room were pro-choice, and the applause, cheers and standing ovations came almost entirely from pro-choice students. This was very much a pro-choice event. This truth is unavoidable.
And that is absolutely OK.
There are those who believe Richards’ talk did not foster the free exchange of ideas, that there was not a strong enough pro-life voice at the event to balance out the speaker’s messages. They are absolutely right. To ask her to profess any viewpoint on reproductive justice except that of a pro-choice woman in the field would be asking her to censor, to lie or not to speak at all.
We cannot stress this enough: Listening is a part of conversation.
Conversation does not entail a perfect one-to-one ratio of pro-life to pro-choice voices. It does not mean quieting pro-choice voices to placate pro-life students. It certainly does not mean every pro-life event should go forth as an uncontested soliloquy while pro-choice ones should be relegated to panels where speakers from both sides are present. This empty, gestural need for genuine dialogue seems to have conveniently arisen the day Richards’ visit was announced and is nothing more than a smoke screen. It is a clear and undisputable double standard.
We are not trying to change your mind.
There was no pro-choice voice present at Abby Johnson’s talk on Wednesday evening. H*yas for Choice members went. There was no pro-choice voice present at congresswoman Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) talk on Tuesday or at the subsequent panel of crisis pregnancy center workers. H*yas for Choice members went. There has never been, and arguably never will be, a pro-choice voice present at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, the largest student-run pro-life conference in the world hosted in Gaston Hall every year. While we do attend events running counter to our pro-choice beliefs, we do not expect to change the minds of the speakers or those who go to support them.
Pro-life spaces are not our spaces.
When Georgetown hosts a pro-life speaker on campus, we usually do not have any desire to attend. When we do go, we do so knowing we are a minority. We show up or we do not, we ask questions or we listen. But at the end of the day, pro-life spaces are not our spaces. And if pro-life students find themselves in a pro-choice space, we invite them to sit with discomfort.
Divisive speakers are going to come to campus again. The good news is that if there is an event you do not agree with, you find yourself in a lucky situation. There are many things you can do.
You can come, listen and maybe learn something. You can come, listen, learn nothing, go home and write an opinion about it. You can come, listen and then ask a question at the end. You can even ask a sassy question.
Or you can just not come.
We say this not to criticize the reaction to Richards’ speech but to make it known that the pro-choice community will not apologize. We will not apologize for our views or for the spaces in which we present them. We say this now so the next time there is an event like Richards’ speech, we can abandon this facade of dialogue and do something revolutionary.
We can allow future events to proceed in their intended forms and take it from there. Events of this nature, which contradict traditional Catholic teachings, do not need to be seen as anti-Catholic or anti-Georgetown. This is a university claiming to pride itself on diversity, on the plurality of the views its students hold and the richness of our dialogues. We can start making that true. Yet dialogue does not mean voices that do not represent the voice of the university should never get the floor to themselves.
Sophia Kleyman is a senior in the College. Michaela Pepi-Lewis is a sophomore in the College. They are the president and vice president, respectively, of H*yas for Choice.