SMC display examines Planned Parenthood services
Last Thursday, 1,852 flags were displayed on Library Green at Saint Mary’s as a visual representation of the health services offered by Planned Parenthood. The exhibit was Feminists United’s response to a campus visit from the Planned Parenthood Project on Oct. 15, religious studies professor Stacy Davis said.
The Planned Parenthood Project is run by Students for Life of America, a national organization with the goal of abolishing abortion, according to its website.
“[The Planned Parenthood Project] focused exclusively on abortion, one service that Planned Parenthood provides,” Davis said. “Feminists United wanted to present information about Planned Parenthood’s other services, including HIV tests, pregnancy tests and cancer screenings.”
Each flag represented ten services provided by Planned Parenthood that are not related to abortions or contraceptive services, Stephanie Szymas, vice president of Feminists United, said. Collective Conscience sponsored the flags and the display, she said.
The Saint Mary’s Feminist United Student Group supports the education of people on all sides of an issue in order to better understand complex topics, Szymas said.
“Respectful disagreement helps students grow in their own personal understanding of difficult political and social topics,” Szymas said. “We believe empathy is a crucial part of the human experience, therefore, the Saint Mary’s Feminist United Club and our supporters celebrate the services Planned Parenthood provides for all women, especially women who may not have access to health insurance.”
The event was originally planned for Oct. 16 but was delayed until Oct. 29 due to administrative issues. The scheduling of this event during Respect Life week was a coincidence, Davis said.
“The flag display was the culmination of two weeks of hard work for Feminists United,” Davis said. “Through their arguments, leadership and respect for the College’s existing policies, the students received permission to plant the flags.”
Feminists United hoped the display would help inform members of the Saint Mary’s community on aspects of Planned Parenthood of which people may not have been aware, Szymas said.
“We intended to speak out on behalf of the one in five women who will turn to Planned Parenthood at least once. Ultimately, we want to inform our fellow Belles through a healthy and respectful discussion,” Szymas said.
Davis said students showed interest in the display, asking questions about the meaning of the flags and taking fact sheets.
“The best conversation was with a student who identified as pro-life and wanted to talk about whether organizations such as Planned Parenthood work to reduce abortions,” Davis said. “Her questions and comments were thoughtful and showed Saint Mary’s students at their very best.”
Szymas said she thought the message was positively received. Numerous students and alumnae reached out and thanked Feminist United for the display and awareness it created.
“Feminist United is very touched and encouraged by the support that we received,” Szymas said. “We understand that supporting Planned Parenthood is controversial. We do not wish to offend anyone, however, we would like to challenge beliefs by fostering an informed discussion.”
“Wendy Davis, a Texas state senator and candidate for governor, best stated what our display meant to us,” Szymas said. “She shared our social media posts and said, ‘Young women often ask me, ‘How can we make a difference?’ My answer: follow your heart, speak up when you feel the need to be heard.’”
Junior Kayla Gaughan said she believed the display was a way to increase conversations about women’s healthcare.
“Part of Saint Mary’s mission encourages students to think about real world complex issues in an informed and educated way,” Gaughan said. “… There are Catholic organizations that support the right to choose — for example, Catholics for Choice. However, the visual was not about abortion or contraception and adheres to school policy.”
The next event co-sponsored by the Feminists United Student Group will be a panel on reproductive rights on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in Spes Unica 145.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the next Feminists United event would take place on Nov. 7. The panel on reproductive rights will take place tonight (Nov. 2). The Observer regrets this error.