Saint Mary’s President Carol Ann Mooney responded to the campus controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood in an email to students Thursday.
On Oct. 29, Saint Mary’s Feminists United club hosted a display of 1,852 flags, each of which represented 10 services offered by Planned Parenthood not related to abortion or providing contraception.
Religious studies professor and chair of the department of Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) Stacy Davis told the Observer last week that the display was in response to a campus visit from the Planned Parenthood Project Oct. 15 during the College’s Pro-Life Week. The Planned Parenthood Project focuses on abortion, one service that Planned Parenthood provides, Davis said.
Mooney said in the email that before fall break, the College student pro-life group, Belles for Life, invited the nationwide Planned Parenthood Project to campus with the aim of bringing to light facts about Planned Parenthood that are contrary to the consistent life ethic taught by the Catholic Church.
After the Planned Parenthood Project visited campus, Feminists United wanted to respond by having an event at which they would display flags representing the non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood.
“The Student Affairs Office rightly took the position that a Saint Mary’s student group cannot advocate for Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood acts contrary to Church teaching,” Mooney said.
After extended discussion between Student Affairs and concerned students, Mooney said the students were granted permission to set up a display of unmarked flags standing for the number of non-abortion services provided last year by Planned Parenthood.
“Student Affairs insisted that not only were the flags to be unmarked, but there was to be no sign indicating that the flags had anything to do with Planned Parenthood,” she said. “These constraints were placed on this student organization because recognized student groups at Saint Mary’s are not permitted to advocate for positions contrary to Catholic Church teaching.”
At the display, a small group of faculty members decided to distribute a fact sheet concerning the number of STI/STD tests and treatments, cancer screenings, contraceptive services, pregnancy tests and prenatal services provided by Planned Parenthood last year, Mooney said.
“The academic administration told the faculty members that the fact sheet could be only that, a fact sheet, and not an advocacy piece,” she said. “The distribution of the information by the faculty members was, understandably and unfortunately, seen as being part of the students’ display and the whole was perceived as support for Planned Parenthood.”
Mooney said the difference between what the student group wanted to do, but was not permitted to do, and what the group of faculty did may not be readily apparent, but there is a difference.
“The student group wanted to stage an openly pro-Planned Parenthood event; they wanted to advocate for an organization that operates, in a number of ways, in contravention of Church teaching,” she said. “The faculty distributed information about what Planned Parenthood does.”
While some may believe that Student Affairs and Academic Affairs could have been more transparent, Mooney said, both acted in good faith and consistent with the dual roles the College plays in education — which involved free access to information — and in the formation of young people in the Catholic tradition, which prohibits students group from taking advocacy position inconsistent with Church teaching.
Mooney assured students the College remains faithful to its mission and Catholic identity.