In March, we learned that CEO and president of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, would give the Commencement address to graduating students of Barnard College, there were some reactions of shock and disappointment.
Kate Christensen, who graduated from Barnard on May 18 and was the president of Columbia University College Republicans, had an op-ed for The Columbia Spectator published, in which one of her points made was that by choosing such a “divisive” speaker, the college disregards the beliefs of those who disagree with Cecile Richards’ promotion of abortion:
By choosing such a controversial figure, Barnard implies that students who take deep offense to this choice do not have valid concerns, and their beliefs do not matter. Choosing a speaker of such moral and political controversy seems to assume that the opposing minority will be shamed into silence for their beliefs and will take this decision more or less sitting down. Perhaps Barnard, in whatever calculus it is doing, does not care about offending and isolating students like me, families in attendance like mine, or beliefs like the ones I hold.
At Ms. Christensen has even more of a point when on the website for Barnard College, which certainly does not hide Richards’ involvement with Planned Parenthood, announces the commencement speaker with only glowing praise. The controversial nature of Planned Parenthood and Cecile Richards are neither addressed nor even mentioned. Rather, Barnard President Debora Spar almost endorses the advocate of abortion on demand and up until birth as well as her organization, and that graduates of Barnard will agree with her:
“Throughout her career, Cecile Richards has advocated for civic engagement and public participation as essential components of law-making and the political process,” said Barnard President Debora Spar. “Now, as head of Planned Parenthood, she is at the center of the ongoing national dialogue on women’s rights and health. Her extraordinary insight and experience will inspire our graduates, whose own lives and careers will contribute to the future of these critically important issues for women everywhere.”
While it was not uncommon this year for universities and colleges to cancel commencement speakers, or for the speakers themselves to rescind their invitation, Cecile Richards did in fact speak at Barnard College on May 18, 2014 for the 122nd commencement at Radio City Music Hall.
In introducing the video on their website, Barnard says that “…Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards urged graduates to be activists, troublemakers, and agitators.” Media outlets such as The Huffington Post, choose to highlight how Richards dedicated a portion of her speech to mentioning Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two students at University of North Carolina who were victims of sexual assault and decided to act to end this injustice on campus and do something about it.
In a post from the same day as the commencement ceremony, The Columbia Spectator similarly reports on the positive elements of Richards’ speech. The controversy that such a selection for commencement speaker caused did make its way into the article, in a few paragraphs, and Kate Christensen herself is quoted:
Kate Christensen, BC ’14 and former president of the Columbia University College Republicans, said she appreciated the approach to general involvement Richards took in light of the controversial nature of Planned Parenthood.
In March, Christensen wrote an op-ed in Spectator arguing that Richards’ selection as speaker unnecessarily alienated many students who were opposed to abortion, of which Planned Parenthood is a major provider.
“I appreciate that it was a call to action, and that she acknowledged what it took for a lot of students and families to be there for her remarks,” Christensen said.
While it is beneficial that someone who morally disagrees with Cecile Richards and her organization, as Kate Christensen does, could still appreciate her commencement despite the controversy, it is necessary to fully examine and critique the speech Cecile Richards made.
Her speech, full of the usual and positive remarks one is likely to hear during a commencement address, did not shy away from referencing Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger. She also made (or left out) comments which those pro-lifers who know the truth about her organization and its history should rightly take issue with.
In praising activities conducted by Barnard College students, Cecile Richards references The Vagina Monologues, a vulgar and controversial play. Some versions of this play have included “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could,” which celebrates the statutory rape of a drunk 16 year old girl by an older lesbian woman as “politically incorrect salvation.”
In speaking of her own experiences, Cecile Richards also mentions feminist and abortion advocate Gloria Steinem as well as “this thing called women’s liberation.” It is a shame that abortion is often regarded as a form of “liberation” but rather often does the opposite to vulnerable women who find themselves in such a situation, and certainly to the unborn children who are victims.
At approximately 10:30 into the video, Cecile Richards addresses Planned Parenthood:
Planned Parenthood was born in controversy — a tradition we’ve done our best to uphold for 98 years.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first — illegal — birth control clinic in the country, just over the bridge in a far-off place called Brooklyn. Ten days later, an undercover police officer posing as a mother showed up, busted Margaret, and threw her in jail — where she taught her fellow inmates about birth control!
And a movement was born.
Ever since then, we’ve had what you might call an affinity for challenging the status quo — something we proudly share with Barnard.
While Richards’ statements may be correct, it is noteworthy in that Planned Parenthood is certainly controversial in ways its CEO and president is likely not referring to. For instance, are we to believe that Planned Parenthood does its “best to uphold” instances of Medicaid fraud, support for sex-selection abortion, cover-up of the heinous practices of sex trafficking and statutory rape, false and misleading claims about the services they provide, and misleading and misinforming women about pregnancy and fetal development?
Also left out about Margaret Sanger are her racist and eugenicist views, which certainly influenced her position on birth control and abortion.
One could certainly say that Planned Parenthood has “had what you might call an affinity for challenging the status quo…,” that is if you regard such controversies, many of which circumvent the law, as merely “challenging the status quo.” It is also downright appalling to equate Barnard, especially those graduates, faculty, staff or the family of such who disagree with Richards, on this and to speak “proudly” of it.
Cecile Richards also goes on to later quote Lena Dunham, who is in her own right, known to pro-lifers and an equally controversial figure. When hosting Saturday Night Live, Dunham appeared in an awkward and unfunny sketch which shamelessly promoted Planned Parenthood.
Richards also references inspiration from her mother, the late former governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Perhaps the most ironic aspect of her speech, as an abortion advocate, comes when she quotes her mother:
Growing up, Mom always told me, “The answer to life is yes.”
This is the only life you have so make the most of it. Take every opportunity and risk you can. You’ll only regret the things you didn’t do because you were afraid to try.
Certainly this phrase does not apply to choosing life. And it certainly does not when Cecile Richards’ salary of over $400,000 comes from her organization preying off of women and benefiting from when they do not answer yes to life.
Richards is certainly correct in saying that “[t]his is the only life you have…” This applies to the women who may regret their abortions and wish that they could take this “choice” when they never can, and it does as well to the unborn child aborted by Planned Parenthood before even having the opportunity to be born.
Further down her speech, Richards also mentions the accomplishments of her children, all which include pro-choice involvement, and invokes “bragging rights” with Rush Limbaugh criticizing her daughter:
And to all the parents: I know you’re so proud of your daughters today, and trust me, if you think they’re great as students, wait until you get to know them as fiercely independent adults.
I’ve never cheered so loud as when my son Daniel became the vice-chair of the women’s rights group on his campus, where they finally got birth control for students!
Or my daughter Hannah who organized a rally in support of Planned Parenthood, complete with flash mob, at Wesleyan.
And of course, there’s the proud day when Rush Limbaugh came after my daughter Lily, right on the radio, for being an outspoken feminist! Now that’s bragging rights.
When Cecile Richards mentions “the basics:” of what her mother taught her towards the close of her speech, she speaks with a further air of irony:
Mom said, “You may go somewhere else, and you may make a lot of money, but you will never receive the kind of gratification that you get when someone looks you in the eye and says, ‘Thank you for helping make my life better.'”
The world can be tough. It can be unjust.
Planned Parenthood and Cecile Richard like to talk about the women their organization has helped, supposedly, but part of the real “War on Women” it engages in is that it does not speak for or even acknowledge that it has hurt women as well. There are babies who were aborted, and whose lives, and rarely whose mother’s lives, could never have been made better, who never could have looked Cecile Richards in the eye and thanked her.
The world can be tough indeed, and it can be unjust. And it largely, especially when it comes to vulnerable women and the unborn, is because of Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood.